The first science image from NASA’s TESS exoplanet hunter is mind-boggling

TESS view of southern sky

NASA's newest planet hunter, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), is now providing valuable data to help scientists discover and study exciting new exoplanets, or planets beyond our solar system.

In order to find other life forms in the immensity of space, we might begin to look for other planets. The satellite has completed its first orbit and part of the data from that first orbit includes this detailed image of the southern sky taken with the quartet of wide-field cameras TESS fields.

The full frame captured a much bigger swath of the southern sky.

This Monday was NASA's occasion of displaying the "first light" images of the southern sky, captured by TESS and beamed back to Earth. Notable features in this swath of the southern sky come with the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds and a globular cluster known as NGC 104, also known as 47 Tucanae.

TESS snapped the picture over a 30-minute period on Tuesday, August 7.




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. The image is absolutely packed with stars, taking a half hour to soak in the light and produce the collection of pictures you see below. "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. This is when the planet passes in front of its star (from the point of view of the observer), causing periodic and regular drop in brightness. 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.

Scientists anticipate that data from TESS could reveal thousands of new planets that are within 200 light-years of Earth.

Sara Seager, the deputy science director for TESS, previously told Business Insider that she expects to find dozens of Earth-like planets in the next few years, which could double the current list of potentially habitable exoplanets. The results represent "first light" for the new space telescope, and indicate that it is ready to begin looking for exoplanets by monitoring nearly the entire night sky to look for regular dips in the brightness of relatively nearby stars. But Kepler has almost run out of fuel and is now in sleep mode.

"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", Hertz said in an April press release.

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