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NASA's Planet Hunting TESS Beams Back 'First Light' Image

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TESS, the newest space telescope that will take up the mantle and find exoplanets similar to Earth, has already beamed the first photo it captured.

TESS Starts Sending Data Back To Earth

NASA has released a detailed picture of the southern sky featuring stars and other celestial objects including previously identified exoplanets. The space telescope used all four of its wide-field cameras to capture the photo.

"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," stated Paul Hertz, NASA astrophysics division director. "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."

According to the space agency, the black lines in the imaged beamed back to Earth by TESS are from the gaps between each of the spacecraft's camera detectors. However, it was still able to capture parts of constellations and the Small and Large Magellanic Clouds. Two stars — Beta Gruis and R Doradus — are so bright that they created long spikes of light in the photo.

"This swath 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.

The space telescope acquired the photo over a 30-minute period on Tuesday, Aug. 4. This was the telescope's "first light" captured a few months after it had been launched to space in April.

However, this is not the first time that the new spacecraft sent an image back to Earth. Immediately after launch, TESS took a two-second test exposure using one of its four cameras. The result is an equally impressive photo showing over 200,000 stars in the southern sky.

Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, TESS is meant to replace Kepler, a similar telescope that has, in the span of almost 10 years, spotted over 2,000 exoplanets orbiting distant stars. Kepler is expected to retire any day now.

TESS Mission

In the next couple of years, Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite or TESS will be looking at the sky to look for transits or the sudden but regular dip in distant star's darkness that occurs when a planet passes in front of it. The spacecraft will be spending two years monitoring 13 sectors from the northern sky and 13 sectors from the southern sky, covering 85 percent of the sky.

TESS is scheduled to transmit new images back to ground control every 13.7 days. The Deep Space Network receives the data from the spacecraft and forwards them back to Earth.

Meanwhile, the James Webb Space Telescope and other space/ground observatories will use spectroscopy to learn more about the planets that TESS will find.

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