Spectacular First Photo From The TESS Exoplanet Hunter Unveiled By NASA

Snapped after a lunar flyby on May 17, the image reveals 200,000 stars in the Centaurus constellation.

First image from NASA's TESS spacecraft.
TESS spacecraft / NASA

Snapped after a lunar flyby on May 17, the image reveals 200,000 stars in the Centaurus constellation.

NASA’s TESS planet-hunting satellite just beamed back its first photo from space and everyone is buzzing with excitement. The stunning image, released yesterday by the space agency, captures the Centaurus constellation shining brightly in the southern sky and depicts more than 200,000 stars, NASA officials wrote in a news release.

“The edge of the Coalsack Nebula is in the right upper corner and the bright star Beta Centauri is visible at the lower left edge.”

TESS snapped this first photo on May 17, soon after a flyby of the moon that brought the spacecraft as close as about 5,000 miles from Earth’s satellite.

This long-planned lunar flyby has taken the mission “one step closer to searching for new worlds,” NASA pointed out, and represents a “gravity assist” maneuver meant to set the TESS spacecraft on its trailblazing path around our planet.

As the Inquisitr previously reported, NASA’s TESS satellite, which stands for Transiting Exoplanet Survey, will operate from a highly-elliptical P/2 Lunar Resonant Orbit described in the video below, a novel path that no other spacecraft has trodden before.

This will allow the satellite’s four cameras to image up to 85 percent of the sky, eventually covering more than 400 times the swath of sky pictured in the newly-released snapshot.

This first image was taken as part of a two-second test of one of the spacecraft’s cameras. According to NASA, “a science-quality image,” also known as a “first light” image, will be released next month.

First test image of NASA's TESS satellite.
First test image of one of the four cameras on board NASA’s TESS spacecraft. TESS spacecraft / NASA

On May 30, the TESS satellite will fire up its thrusters for the last time in order to position itself on its innovative orbit, where it will spend two years scoping out the skies and tracking down an estimated 20,000 planets beyond our solar system.

Newsweek reports that TESS’s first photograph may already contain a bounty of new worlds to explore, as each of the 200,000 stars revealed in the image is most likely orbited by at least one planet.

The spacecraft is expected to reach its targeted orbit in mid-June and will shortly thereafter begin its science operations once the satellite’s cameras are fully calibrated.

The $287 million TESS mission was launched on April 18 atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, which took off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The TESS satellite will take over the planet-hunting task performed until now by the soon-to-be-retired Kepler probe, which is running out of fuel and will cease operations within the next couple of months, NASA reported earlier this year.

Since its launch in 2009, the Kepler spacecraft has discovered about 70 percent of the 3,700 known exoplanets, notes Space.com. The TESS mission is expected to match this incredible number and even exceed the outstanding performance of the venerable Kepler probe.