NASA spacecraft swings by moon, snaps 200,000 stars

The picture is the first taken since the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) lifted off from Cape Canaveralin April on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

TESS completed its lunar flyby on 17 May and the science team completed a two-second test exposure using one of the spacecraft’s four cameras.

Test image from one of the four cameras aboard the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). Pic: NASA
Image:The new NASA image shows 200,000 stars

It is centred on the southern hemisphere constellation Centaurus and reveals more than 200,000 stars.

NASA spacecraft swings by moon, snaps 200,000 stars
NASA spacecraft swings by moon, snaps 200,000 stars

The picture is just the beginning for NASA, as TESS is expected to cover 400 times as much sky during its mission to search for planets outside of our solar system – bodies known as exoplanets – some of which could potentially harbour life.

The spacecraft will scan the sky with its four cameras as part of an initial two-year search.

NASA says that a science-quality image, also known as a “first light” image, is expected to be released in June.

A Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Florida on Wednesday on SpaceX’s first high-priority science mission for NASA, a planet-hunting orbital telescope designed to detect worlds beyond our solar system that might be capable of harboring life.
Image:TESS blasted off on a SpaceX rocket in April

TESS has a highly unusual orbit around Earth which is designed to maximise the amount of sky it can image.

It will observe nearly the entire sky to monitor for sudden dips in the brightness of nearby stars caused by planets passing in front of them.

NASA expects TESS will find thousands of exoplanets, and its James Webb Space Telescope – scheduled to launch in 2020 – will provide follow-up observations.

TESS is a NASA astrophysics explorer mission led and operated by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre.

More than a dozen universities, research institutes and observatories worldwide are taking part in the mission.

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