TESS's first science image features the Southern Sky

Brooks Hays
TESS's first science image features thousands of stars in the Southern Sky. Photo by NASA/MIT/TESS
TESS's first science image features thousands of stars in the Southern Sky. Photo by NASA/MIT/TESS

Sept. 18 (UPI) -- TESS has produced its "first light" science image. The image, captured during its initial science orbit, features thousands of stars in the Southern Sky.

TESS, short for Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, is NASA's newest planet-hunting probe. The spacecraft launched in April.


The probe's exemplary inaugural science image is the first look at TESS's unique approach to planet hunting.

TESS's scientific mission is largely the same as Kepler's -- to take images of exoplanets. But while Kepler focused on small fields of view for long periods of time, TESS adopts a wider, more comprehensive view.

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"TESS is designed to image almost all of the night sky -- using four wide-angle cameras," Natalia Guerrero, an Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientist and researcher on the TESS mission, told UPI earlier this year.

The latest image is the product of a 30-minute exposure using all four of TESS's cameras. Galaxies, globular clusters and thousands of stars can be found within the portrait of the Southern Sky. Hidden in the image are 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 MIT's Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, said in a news release.

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TESS scientists have divided the sky into long strips called sectors. Over the next three years, TESS will continue to scan the night sky, sector by sector. Each hemisphere contains 13 sectors and, for now, TESS will focus on the Southern Hemisphere.

In addition to broad exposures, TESS's cameras will also capture high-definition images of "postage stamps" -- sections of the sky containing 200,000 especially bright stellar targets. Scientists selected the targets because they're likely to host transiting exoplanets.

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