TESS First Light: The Search for Exoplanets Has Begun!

TESS the transiting exoplanet survey satellite, has taken its first science image. This image is the first in the first sector of the southern hemisphere and shows both LMC and SMC

2964 Views | Published on 19th Sep, 2018

Hello space fans and welcome to another edition of Space Fan News in this episode, TESS the transiting exoplanet survey satellite, has taken its first science image. For those who don't know TESS is designed to look at small dips in brightness as planets pass between us and their host stars and will look at almost the entire sky over the course of 2 years.

OK folks the results are starting to come in from the long awaited TESS mission. Yesterday, NASA released the first strip of data taken with TESS’s four cameras. This strip, was acquired over 30 minutes on August 7th 2018 . This entire strip of four groups of four panels each is an individual sector. This is TESS’s “first light,” from the first observing sector that will be used for identifying planets around other stars.

As a reminder, TESS will spend two years monitoring 26 sectors just like this for 27 days each, covering 85 percent of the sky. During its first year of operations, the satellite will study the 13 sectors making up the southern sky. Then TESS will turn to the 13 sectors of the northern sky to carry out a second year-long survey.

The black lines in the image are gaps between the camera detectors. And in this strip, we can see all kinds of really cool stuff.

TESS is starting its survey in the southern hemisphere so in this sector we can see the Small Magellanic Cloud and the small bright dot above it is a globular cluster — a spherical collection of hundreds of thousands of stars — called NGC 104, also known as 47 Tucanae because of its location in the southern constellation Tucana, the Toucan.

In another panel within the sector, two stars, Beta Gruis and R Doradus, are so bright they saturate an entire column of pixels on the detectors of TESS’s second and fourth cameras, creating long spikes of light.

In this panel, there are more bright stars and another globular cluster, known as Messier 30, a spherical group of stars some 27 thousand light years away. This cluster is estimated to be 13 billion years old.

What strikes me looking at these images is just how crowded the star field is. It’s designed to catch dips in brightness that will correspond to those of a super Earth, which is defined by astronomers as a planet between 15 and 17 times more massive than Earth and about 1 and quarter times the radius.

TESS will be staring at this strip of sky for another 26 days hoping to catch tiny dips in brightness each time it images a sector. It will look a the brightest 200,000 stars in our galaxy with a 1 second time cadence and full frame images like this one over a 30 minute time cadence.

So there you go Space Fans, the search is underway. The results of this two year survey will be used for lots of things, most notably as a catalogue of interesting places for other space telescopes like Hubble and JWST to look.

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

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Comments & Discussion

Love these updates Tony!
DAVID MCFADDEN - 20th Sep, 2018