TESS images star field after lunar flyby

Stunning image is just a fraction of the amount of sky the planet-hunting probe will photograph.

NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), which launched from Cape Canaveral on April 18, took its first photograph on May 17 after passing within about 5,000 miles of the Moon.

Snapped during a test of one of the probe’s four cameras, the two-second exposure features a field of more than 200,000 stars centered on the constellation Centaurus.

Beta Centauri, a bright star in Centaurus, is visible on the lower left of the image, while part of the Coalsack Nebula can be seen in the top right corner.

A successor to the Kepler Space Telescope, TESS will observe nearly the whole sky in a search for exoplanets transiting, or passing in front of, their host stars. The space observatory is expected to discover thousands of new planets and gather information about them that will be used determine which have the best chances of being habitable for life.

These planets’ atmospheres will be subsequently studied with NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), now scheduled to launch in 2020.

The lunar flyby gave the spacecraft a gravity assist to propel it to its orbital destination.

Using all of its four cameras, TESS will cover four times as much sky as it did in the May 17 image.

The spacecraft will release its first “science quality” photograph, also known as a “first light” image, next month.

One more thruster burn, scheduled for May 30, will send TESS to its extremely elliptical orbit around the Earth, an orbit that will enable it to observe large sections of the sky continuously during its two-year mission.

Actual science operations will start after the spacecraft reaches its targeted orbit and camera calibrations are completed.


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