In order to find other life forms in the immensity of space, we might begin to look for other planets. Since its launch in 2009, the Kepler telescope has done a fantastic job in doing so. However, its workhorse satellite is reaching the end of its life so the baton must be passed on to TESS, or the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite.
This Monday was NASA’s occasion of displaying the ‘first light’ images of the southern sky, captured by TESS and beamed back to Earth. The term ‘first light’ is astronomical and is used to describe the first occurrence that a telescope manages to acquire images. Still, it is not really the first time that TESS sent an image back to Earth.
During its testing phase, TESS took a two-second exposure image of space by using just one camera, which it then sent back to NASA. It contained over 200,000 stars. This new image, however, uses all four of the satellites wide-field cameras and it consists of a panoramic view of the southern sky made by stitching together 16 different images.
Inside the image rests a strip of stars and galaxies from which we mention the Small and Large Magellanic Clouds, which are two dwarf galaxies that orbit our own, and the Beta Gruis and R Doradus, a couple of luminous stars which saturated the detectors of the cameras. The astrophysics division director at NASA, Paul Hertz, said that “This first light science image shows the capabilities of TESS’ cameras, and shows that the mission will realize its incredible potential in our search for another Earth”.
The satellite is allowed to look for transits by capturing these images. Transits are periods of time when planets pass in front of a star. This accounts for dips into the star’s brightness, allowing scientists to discern new planets.
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