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Here's The First Image From NASA's Planet-Hunting Satellite TESS

May 20, 2018 09:15 PM EDT
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NASA begins a comprehensive search for new worlds as the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite snaps its first spectacular image of the cosmos.

The satellite, dubbed TESS, just completed a lunar flyby just 5,000 miles from the moon.

TESS Begins Hunting For Planets 

This first image is just the TESS scientists testing one of its four onboard cameras. However, the two-second test exposure produced a breathtaking snapshot of over 200,000 stars.

According to a NASA report, Coalsack Nebula's edge can be seen in the upper right corner, while the bright star Beta Centauri is visible at the lower left edge.

Even more impressively, this initial image is only the tip of the iceberg. A first light image, which will provide scientists with a better quality photo, is expected to be released in June. And with four powerful cameras in a two-year search for exoplanets, TESS will cover a wide expanse of over 400 times as much sky as the first photo shows.

TESS will enter science orbit with a final thrust on May 30. Its orbit will allow the satellite to maximize its views of the skies so it can capture as much of the skies as possible.

About TESS

The satellite, which hitched a ride to space on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket last April 18, is the heart of NASA's mission to search for exoplanets. It will monitor nearby stars in hopes of catching transits, the flickering of the star's brightness due to a planet passing by. More than 78 percent of the 3,700 exoplanets confirmed have been found to use transits.

George Ricker, the TESS principal investigator from Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research (MKI), explains in a statement that the high data rate is one of the remarkable features of the satellite.

"Each time the spacecraft passes close to Earth, it will transmit full-frame images taken with the cameras," he says, adding that this used to be impossible to achieve.

Scientists are expecting to find thousands of exoplanets with the cutting-edge technology of TESS.

"We are thrilled TESS is on its way to help us discover worlds we have yet to imagine, worlds that could possibly be habitable, or harbor life," Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, says after the satellite's launch in April. "With missions like the James Webb Space Telescope to help us study the details of these planets, we are ever the closer to discovering whether we are alone in the universe."

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