NASA TESS shares first science photograph

TESS view of southern sky

NASA TESS shares first science photograph

NASA has released the first image from its new space telescope, called the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS).

Part of the data from TESS initial science orbit includes a detailed picture of the southern sky (see photo at right) taken with all four of the spacecrafts wide-field cameras. This "first light" science image captures a wealth of stars and other objects, including systems previously known to have exoplanets. Paul Hertz, director of NASA's astrophysics division, said in a statement.

"This first light science image shows the capabilities of TESS' cameras, and shows that the mission will realize its incredible potential in our search for another Earth", Hertz said.

TESS managed to grab the image by using all of its four cameras for a 30-minute period on Tuesday, August 7th. The faint black lines in the image are gaps between the camera detectors.

Among other details, the images also have parts of dozen of constellations like Capricornus and Picto and both the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds. Above the Small Magellanic Cloud is a globular cluster, while the immensely bright star to the galaxies' left is the red giant Mira variable star R Doradus. TESS has given light images before but with only one camera in its testing phase.

"This strip of the southern hemisphere includes more than a dozen stars that we know have planets in transit based on previous studies of terrestrial observatories", said George Ricker, principal investigator of TESS, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

The $337 million satellite launched on April 18 atop a Falcon 9 rocket on its way toward what scientists have hailed a 'mission for the ages'.

It watches for tiny dips in the brightness of far-away stars to detect planets moving in front of them, which happens to be a great way to prove the existence of planets outside of our own Solar System.

TESS is scheduled to take two years to survey 26 sectors of the sky, spending almost a month on each sector - equivalent to some 85 per cent of the entire sky in total.

TESS might spend a year in the southern hemisphere and then work its way to the northern hemisphere, collecting data about new planets. TESS is picking up the exoplanet-hunting mantle from Kepler and is targeting stars much brighter than Kepler investigated.

This Monday was NASA's occasion of displaying the "first light" images of the southern sky, captured by TESS and beamed back to Earth.

Ahead of its first science images, the spacecraft has been conducting tests over the last few months to verify its ability to observe a broad swath of the sky.

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