NASA shares stunning 'first light' image from new TESS spacecraft

Rodiano Bonacci
Settembre 18, 2018

On Monday, NASA shared "first light" images of the southern sky beamed back to Earth from its new planet hunting satellite. "This first light science image shows the capabilities of TESS' cameras, and shows that the mission will realise its incredible potential in our search for another Earth", Hertz said.

The long spikes you see in the image are caused by a pair of stars called Beta Gruis and R Doradus that are so bright they saturate an entire column of pixels.

"This swath of the sky's southern hemisphere includes more than a dozen stars we know have transiting planets based on previous studies from ground observatories", said George Ricker, TESS principal investigator at MIT's Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research.

Bright spots in the image include the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, two satellite dwarf galaxies within our Milky Way galaxy's sphere of influence. TESS will spend a year or so on the southern hemisphere and then work its way to the northern hemisphere, collecting an vast amount of data and relaying it back to scientists on Earth. Details of how TESS scans the sky are offered in the video above.

It hasn't quite reached its final orbit yet, but is expected to get there within the next few weeks, thanks in part to a little boost from the moon's gravity on May 17. That will allow it to cover 85% of the sky. TESS is picking up the exoplanet-hunting mantle from Kepler and is targeting stars much brighter than Kepler investigated.

The newly released imagery was captured by TESS' four wide-field cameras during a 30-minute session on August 7.

Then, the following year, it will scour the northern sectors.

"In a sea of stars brimming with new worlds, TESS is casting a wide net and will haul in a bounty of promising planets for further study", said Paul Hertz, Astrophysics Division Director at NASA headquarters in Washington.

Tess is 5 feet (1.5 meters) wide and is shorter than most adults.

Tess will aim for a unique elongated orbit that passes within 45,000 miles of Earth on one end and as far away as the orbit of the moon on the other end.

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