Exoplanets: The Next Frontier

Water worlds. Lava worlds with molten surfaces. Desert worlds, where dunes of sand ripple to the horizon. Planets encrusted with a layer of diamonds.

In this artist's rendering, NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) flies past the moon shortly after its launch, using the gravitational encounter to slingshot to its final orbit. Click here to watch the full animation illustrating the careful choreography TESS will perform to reach its intended orbit.
Chester Beals / MIT Lincoln Laboratory

Sara Seager (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) has modeled these planets; now she hopes to find them. One of the world’s leading exoplanet researchers, she’s been called “an astronomical Indiana Jones” in her quest to find another Earth. She's also a scientific advisor to the commercial asteroid mining firm Planetary Resources, Inc. In our August issue’s cover story, she details what we’ve learned about exoplanets in the past 20 years and what we hope to find in the next decade. But how?

S&T’s Editor in Chief Robert Naeye sat down with Seager to talk about NASA’s upcoming exoplanet satellite TESS and her own nanosatellite project called ExoplanetSat. They also discussed the diversity of exoplanets and their prospects for life.