NASA’s new TESS spacecraft captures photo of more than a dozen celestial objects known to host exoplanets in stunning ‘first light’ image

  • TESS spacecraft fired its cameras for 30 mins on August 7, capturing a detailed image of the southern sky
  • It used four wide-field cameras to capture a look at more than a dozen celestial features, NASA says
  • Ahead of its first science images, TESS has been conducting tests to verify ability to observe a broad swath 
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NASA’s new exoplanet-hunting spacecraft has finally sent back its first official science image, in the first step toward finding new worlds beyond our solar system.

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) snapped a photo using its four wide-field cameras on August 7, nearly four months after it blasted off from Cape Canaveral.

Its stunning ‘first light’ image reveals a look at several celestial features, including the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds and the incredibly bright stars Beta Gruis and R Doradus.

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NASA’s new exoplanet-hunting spacecraft has finally sent back its first official science image. In its latest photo, TESS captured stars and objects that includes systems that are home to exoplanets. There are parts of a dozen constellations in the TESS image along with a globular cluster that includes hundreds of thousands of stars

‘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.

‘This first light science image shows the capabilities of TESS’s cameras, and shows that the mission will realize its incredible potential in our search for another Earth.’

TESS fired its cameras for 30 mins on August 7, capturing a detailed image of the southern sky.

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.

In its latest photo, TESS captured stars and objects that includes systems that are home to exoplanets.

‘This swatch 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 the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research in Cambridge.

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There are parts of a dozen constellations in the TESS image, according to NASA, along with a globular cluster that includes hundreds of thousands of stars.


Its stunning ‘first light’ image reveals a look at several celestial features, including the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds and the incredibly bright stars Beta Gruis and R Doradus. TESS fired its cameras for 30 mins on August 7, capturing a detailed image of the southern sky

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.’

TESS is equipped with four cameras that will allow it to view 85 percent of the entire sky, as it searches exoplanets orbiting stars less than 300 light-years away.

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.

By studying objects much brighter than the Kepler targets, it’s hoped TESS could uncover new clues on the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe.

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    WHAT IS THE TESS SPACECRAFT?

    NASA’s new ‘planet hunter,’ set to be Kepler’s successor, is equipped with four cameras that will allow it to view 85 per cent of the entire sky, as it searches exoplanets orbiting stars less than 300 light-years away.

    By studying objects much brighter than the Kepler targets, it’s hoped TESS could uncover new clues on the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe.

    Its four wide-field cameras will view the sky in 26 segments, each of which it will observe one by one.


    In its first year of operation, it will map the 13 sectors that make up the southern sky.

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

    ‘We learned from Kepler that there are more planets than stars in our sky, and now TESS will open our eyes to the variety of planets around some of the closest stars,’ said Paul Hertz, Astrophysics Division director at NASA’s Headquarters. 

    ‘TESS will cast a wider net than ever before for enigmatic worlds whose properties can be probed by NASA’s upcoming James Webb Space Telescope and other missions.’

     

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

      The observatory is 4 feet across (1.2 meters), not counting the solar wings, which are folded for launch, and weighs just 800 pounds (362 kilograms). 

      NASA says it’s somewhere between the size of a refrigerator and a stacked washer and dryer. 

      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.

      It will take Tess two weeks to circle Earth.   

      In its first year of operation, it will map the 13 sectors that make up the southern sky.

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

      ‘One of the biggest questions in exoplanet exploration is: If an astronomer finds a planet in a star’s habitable zone, will it be interesting from a biologist’s point of view?’ said George Ricker, TESS principal investigator at MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research.

      ‘We expect TESS will discover a number of planets whose atmospheric compositions, which hold potential clues to the presence of life, could be precisely measured by future observers.’

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