NASA's New Planet-Hunter TESS Beams 'First Light' Image to Earth

TESS's first science image features the Southern Sky

TESS's first science image features the Southern Sky

Technically, we don't know for sure either of these planets exists yet.

NASA has released the first image from its new space telescope.

Satellite Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) sent to Earth pictures of the bright star R Doradus. TESS' looping orbit takes it to the moon and then back near Earth, allowing the satellite to share the gathered data. The image above is just a portion of the full image - the bright part on the right is the Large Magellanic Cloud, while the bright star R Doradus is on the left. The frame is part of a swath of the southern sky TESS captured in its "first light" science image as part of its initial round of data collection. Over the course of 30 minutes on August 7, the spacecraft observed a rich area of the southern sky that includes the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, the Milky Way globular cluster 47 Tucanae, and more than a dozen stars already known to host planets of their own. More observations will have to confirm their existence before they're entered into the history books as the first exoplanets spotted by TESS. "This first light science image shows the capabilities of TESS's cameras, and shows that the mission will realize its incredible potential in our search for another Earth".

TESS will spend two years monitoring 26 such sectors for 27 days each, covering 85 per cent of the sky. TESS will study 13 sectors in the southern sky the first year, followed by 13 sectors in the northern sky the second year.

It is unknown what conditions on these planets and if there's atmosphere, but scientists at NASA are very excited about the result, as the telescope began operations recently. The device analyzes several thousand brightest stars next to the Sun and looking for little dips in brightness triggered by the passage (or transit) of planets orbiting around them. The team working on TESS even hope to find about 50 small, rocky planets that could be habitable to alien life.

The telescope, launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, is created to find thousands of new exoplanets - planets circling nearby stars - including those that could support life over a two-year mission costing the space agency $337 million (Rs 2,440 crore).

Additional partners include Northrop Grumman, based in Falls Church, Virginia; NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley; the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts; MIT's Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington, Massachusetts; and the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. But Kepler has almost run out of fuel and is now in sleep mode. While Kepler looked at tiny pieces of the sky, TESS will soak in huge slices of it.

In recent years, we have seen a growing interest in searching for planets outside of our solar system.