NASA's latest planetary hunter, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), now provides valuable data to help scientists discover and study exciting new exoplanets or planets outside our solar system. Part of the data from the TESS initial runway contains a detailed image of the southern sky created with all four spacecraft's spacecraft cameras. This "first light" scientific image captures a wealth of stars and other objects, including systems formerly known as exoplanets.
"In a sea of stars bursting with new worlds, TESS casts a large network and will gather an abundance of promising planets for further study," said Paul Hertz, astrophysics division director at NASA headquarters in Washington. "This first scientific light image shows the capabilities of TESS cameras and shows that the mission will realize its incredible potential in our search for another earth."
TESS acquired the image with all four cameras during a period of 30 minutes on Tuesday 7 August. The black lines in the image are openings between the camera detectors. The images contain parts of a dozen constellations, from Capricornus to Pictor, and both the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, the galaxies closest to ours. The small bright dot above the Small Magellanic Cloud is a spherical cluster – a spherical collection of hundreds of thousands of stars – called NGC 104, also known as 47 Tucanae due to its location in the southern constellation Tucana, the Toucan. Two stars, Beta Gruis and R Doradus, are so bright that they saturate an entire column of pixels on the detectors of TESS's second and fourth cameras, creating long light points.
"This southern hemisphere strip contains more than a dozen stars that we know have been based on transient planets from previous studies of ground observatories," said George Ricker, chief inspector of TESS at the Kavli Institute of Astrophysics and Space of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Research in Cambridge.
The Tess cameras, designed and built by MIT's Lincoln Laboratory at Lexington, Massachusetts, and the MIT Kavli Institute, monitor large areas of the air to search for passageways. Transits occur when a planet passes in front of its star from the perspective of the satellite, causing the brightness of the star to drop regularly.
For two years, TESS will monitor 26 such sectors for 27 days, accounting for 85 percent of the air. During the first year of operation, the satellite will study the 13 sectors that make up the southern sky. Then TESS will go to the 13 sectors of the northern sky to carry out a second year survey.
This animation shows how the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) studies 85 percent of the air in 26 sectors. The spacecraft observes the 13 sectors that together form the southern sky in the first year and the 13 sectors of the northern sky in the second year.
Credits: NASA & # 39; s Goddard Space Flight Center
MIT coordinates with Northrop Grumman in Falls Church, Virginia, to plan scientific observations. TESS sends images every 13.7 days every time it is closest to the earth. NASA's Deep Space Network receives and transmits the data to the TESS Payload Operations Center at MIT for initial evaluation and analysis. Full data processing and analysis takes place in the Science Processing and Operations Center pipeline at NASA's Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California, which offers calibrated images and sophisticated light curves that scientists can analyze to find promising exoplanet transit candidates.
TESS builds on the legacy of NASA & # 39; s Kepler spacecraft, which also uses transit to find exoplanets. The target stars of TESS are 30 to 300 light-years away and about 30 to 100 times brighter than the targets of Kepler, which are 300 to 3,000 light-years away. The clarity of the TESS targets makes them ideal candidates for a follow-up study with spectroscopy, the study of how matter and light interact.
The James Webb space telescope and other space and ground observatories use spectroscopy to learn more about the TESS discoveries of the planets, including their atmospheric compositions, masses and densities.
TESS has also begun requesting observations through the TESS Guest Investigator program, allowing the wider scientific community to conduct research using the satellite.
"We were very satisfied with the number of guest research proposals we received and we have selected programs for a broad range of scientific research, from studying distant active galaxies to asteroids in our own solar system," says Padi Boyd, TESS- project scientist at NASA & # 39; s Goddard Space Flight Center at Greenbelt, Maryland. "And of course, many exciting exoplanet and star proposals, and the scientific community is doing everything to see the amazing data that TESS will produce and the exciting scientific discoveries for exoplanets and beyond."