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NASA's new planet-hunting spacecraft sends back first images

NASA's TESS spacecraft captured this swath of the southern sky in its “first light” science image on August 7, 2018.
NASA's TESS spacecraft captured this swath of the southern sky in its “first light” science image on Aug. 7, 2018. Photo: NASA/MIT/TESS

NASA's new planet-hunting spacecraft, known as the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), is now beaming back data to help scientists track new planets that exist beyond our solar system. While in its initial science orbit, TESS took a detailed snapshot of the southern sky, which NASA called a "first light" image.

Why it matters: “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, in a press release. “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.”

The details: NASA says the image was captured using TESS' four cameras during a 30-minute period on Aug.7 and that it includes stars and other systems already thought to contain exoplanets.

“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.”
— George Ricker, TESS principal investigator at the MIT's Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research

A more complete "first light" image from all 4 cameras is below:

TESS captured this strip of stars and galaxies in the southern sky during one 30-minute period on Tuesday, Aug. 7.
The TESS satellite captured this strip of stars and galaxies in the southern sky during one 30-minute period on Tuesday, Aug. 7. Notable features in this swath of the southern sky include the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds and a globular cluster called NGC 104, also known as 47 Tucanae. Credit: NASA/MIT/TESS.
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