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NASA Exoplanet Hunter TESS Takes Test Image As It Gets Gravity Boost From The Moon

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NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) took its first photo which shows over 200,000 in our galaxy as it made its way past the moon. The image is a two-second exposure using one of the four onboard cameras.

NASA says the first high-quality image from TESS is expected sometime in June.

TESS's First Image

TESS captured the image on May 17 as it flew around 5,000 miles away from the moon. TESS was getting a gravity assist from the moon as it made its way to its final orbit. No spacecraft has occupied the orbit that TESS will take once it completes its final thruster burn.

The image centered on the southern constellation of Centaurus. In the upper right corner of the image contains the edge of the Coalsack Nebula and the bright star on the lower left side is the Beta Centauri. TESS is expected to cover 400 times more of the sky than what is shown in the image during its first two years searching for exoplanets.

On May 30, TESS will perform one final thruster burn to enter its science orbit around Earth. This orbit is highly elliptical and will allow TESS to cover the maximum amount of sky that it can photograph. TESS will reach its science orbit around mid-June after completing camera calibrations.

TESS Exoplanet Hunting

TESS images will help scientists by monitoring the brightness of stars. Researchers are looking for drops in the amount of light due to the exoplanets crossing the star. NASA's Kepler space telescope uses this same technique to detect exoplanet. It has discovered 70 percent of the 3,700 exoplanets discovered so far. This technique is called the transit method.

TESS's field of view will include around 20 million stars that have the possibility of having exoplanets orbiting them. Researchers are hoping that TESS will be able to find at least 50 exoplanets that are around the same size as Earth during its time in orbit.

TESS scientist Natalia Guerrero says that the research team doesn't know what they will find. She describes what they're doing as making a treasure map.

NASA's delayed James Webb Telescope is set to follow TESS. Scientists are hoping that when it launches in 2020 it will be able to shed some light on the data obtained by TESS. It should be able to probe the atmospheres a few of the planets found by TESS and will look for water vapor, oxygen, methane and other gases that indicate that the planet may be able to host life.

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