First science image from NASA's TESS exoplanet hunter captures swathe of the southern sky
Following a successful journey to lunar resonant orbit (with a couple of holiday snaps along the way), NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) is now getting down to business. The agency today shared the first science image captured by the space telescope, providing researchers with plenty of inspiration in their search for other worlds that might resemble our own.
Built to succeed NASA's Kepler Space Telescope, TESS is equipped with four low-power, low-noise digital cameras set on an ultra-stable platform. Whereas Kepler's targets are 300 to 3,000 light years away, TESS will study stars 300 to 30,000 light years away that are up to 100 times brighter than those in Kepler's sights. TESS will also cover an area of sky 400 times larger than Kepler is capable of.
In late July, TESS commenced its initial science mission, a two-year survey of the sky intended to reveal worlds around our nearest and brightest stars. Like Kepler, TESS does this using the transit method – monitoring the stars themselves and looking for dips of light that can reveal the presence of a planet or other body passing in front of them.
On August 7, TESS trained its four cameras on a patch of sky in the Southern Hemisphere, acquiring an image over a 30-minute period that captured dozens of constellations and galaxies close to our own, with some of the stars pictured already known to have exoplanets orbiting around them.
"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," says Paul Hertz, astrophysics division director at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "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."
Throughout its two-year survey, TESS will examine 26 different sectors of sky for 27 days apiece, covering 85 percent of the sky. The new planets it finds will be examined more closely by the James Webb Telescope and other scientific tools under development, to learn more about their atmospheric compositions, masses and densities.