NASA's TESS is Now a Fully Armed and Operational Exoplanet Finder

After launch on April 18th of this year onboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, the next generation of space telescopes to look for exoplanets, in our galaxy, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite starts science mission

3045 Views | Published on 3rd Aug, 2018

TESS Begins Operations

Hello Space Fans and welcome to another edition of Space Fan News. After a successful launch on April 18th of this year onboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, the next generation of space telescopes to look for exoplanets, in our galaxy, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite has completed its commissioning phase and is now ready to take observations. TESS promises to expand our catalog of exoplanets and bring humanity a little closer to finding out if we are alone in the galaxy.

Well the timing couldn’t be better. As NASA waits to download the last bit of data and imagery from the venerable Kepler/K2 space telescope later this month, it’s successor, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) is open for business.

TESS is designed to pick up where Kepler left off and expand on the great discoveries that it produced. While Kepler only looked at one area of sky, the constellation Cygnus, and stared at over 160,000 stars there looking for tiny dips in brightness as planets that might be in orbit passed in front of their host star, TESS will do the same thing, only it will look at the entire sky over a period of two years.

Last month, NASA announced that the commissioning phase of getting TESS ready to go was going along as expected. They reported that the spacecraft and cameras were in good health, and the spacecraft has successfully reached its final science orbit. The team continued to conduct tests in order to optimize spacecraft performance with a goal of beginning science at the end of July.

Every new mission goes through a commissioning period of testing and adjustments before beginning science operations. This serves to test how the spacecraft and its instruments are performing and determines whether any changes need to be made before the mission starts observations.

JWST’s commissioning is going to last six months minimum. But I really don’t want to think about that yet. That’s gonna be a very tense time.

Anyway, as part of this process, back in May, the TESS science team released the very first image taken from the spacecraft. Whenever astronomers take the first image from things they build, whether it’s a telescope or a spacecraft, they call it first light. Here is the image containing the very first photons to fall on the TESS detectors in space.

This a two-second test exposure using one of the four TESS cameras. The image, centered on the southern constellation Centaurus, reveals more than 200,000 stars. The edge of the Coalsack Nebula is in the right upper corner and the bright star Beta Centauri is visible at the lower left edge. TESS is expected to cover more than 400 times as much sky as shown in this image with its four cameras during its initial two-year search for exoplanets.

After it took this, on May 30th, the spacecraft performed one final burn and got gravitational help from the Moon to get it into its science orbit. TESS is in an unusual spot, it is circling way outside the planet of the solar system in a highly elliptical orbit that will maximize the amount of sky the spacecraft can image, allowing it to continuously monitor large swaths of the sky.

So now, as of July 25th, TESS is officially online and taking survey images. It is expected to transmit its first series of science data back to Earth this month, and thereafter periodically every 13.5 days, once per orbit, as the spacecraft makes it closest approach to Earth. The TESS Science Team will begin searching the data for new planets immediately after the first series arrives.

Space Fans everywhere are extremely excited about the possibilities this new spacecraft ushers in. Kepler was designed to look for Earth sized planets around 160,000 stars and from that five year survey, we learned that there are on average 1.6 planets for every star in our galaxy. We now know for the first time in our history, that the possibility for life elsewhere greater than zero and there are plenty of place for life to thrive if the conditions are favorable.

From Kepler and now from TESS, we are learning more about our place in the cosmos Are we the only ones here? That question has always been seared in our curiosity and we are driven to find an answer. With each new set of eyes on the galaxy, we get closer to finding it.

That’s it for this episode Space Fans, thanks so much to these guys, our Patreon Patrons, you all make this possible. You may have noticed there were no ads on this video, you can thank them for that. Also, I was on a podcast, check out the TFW Podcast, link in the description box. It was a lot of fun!

Thanks to all of you for watching and as always Keep Looking Up!

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