NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, better known as TESS, recently completed its primary mission in which it made a slew of fascinating discoveries while imaging around 75% of the starry sky. NASA’s Patricia Boyd, a scientist on the project, hailed it as a “roaring success.”
After launching in April 2018 aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, TESS was placed in a unique type of Earth orbit from where it’s been carrying its remarkable observations — far outside of our solar system — using four powerful cameras.
During its initial mission, NASA said the satellite managed to find 66 new exoplanets — worlds beyond our solar system — along with almost 2,100 candidates that astronomers are currently working to confirm. One of the most exciting results of the project is the discovery of a number of planets orbiting in what’s known as “the habitable zone,” an area around a planet’s star that has conditions potentially suitable for the existence of liquid water, which could therefore mean the existence of life. But these planets are many light-years from Earth, so more powerful technology is needed to gain extra insight into the planets’ unique features.
“In addition to its planetary discoveries, TESS has observed the outburst of a comet in our solar system, as well as numerous exploding stars,” the space agency said in a post on its website. “The satellite discovered surprise eclipses in a well-known binary star system, solved a mystery about a class of pulsating stars, and explored a world experiencing star-modulated seasons. Even more remarkable, TESS watched as a black hole in a distant galaxy shredded a sun-like star.”
The satellite has now entered its extended mission, during which it will survey sections of the remaining 25% of the sky that it’s yet to cover.
For this latest mission, which is expected to end in September 2022, the team behind TESS managed to improve the way the satellite collects and processes data, so its cameras are now able to capture a full image every 10 minutes, a speed three times faster than during the primary mission.
These faster measurements will allow TESS to better resolve brightness changes caused by stellar oscillations and to capture explosive flares from active stars in greater detail, NASA said.
“TESS is producing a torrent of high-quality observations providing valuable data across a wide range of science topics,” NASA’s Patricia Boyd said in a release. “As it enters its extended mission, TESS is already a roaring success.”
The satellite’s groundbreaking explorations are set to be continued by the James Webb Telescope, which is scheduled to launch in October 2021 following a number of delays, while other highly advanced space-based telescopes are also in the works.