After a successful launch on April 18, 2018, and a series of on-orbit commissioning tasks, NASA’s newest planet hunter, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, has completed its first 27-day science observation sector, and has delivered its wealth of data to the ground. TESS is now pointed at the sky location for the second observation sector of the science survey, and will make a close approach to the Earth and download the first half of data from sector 2 this week. Meanwhile, the sector one data are being passed through sophisticated data analysis pipelines and the science team has begun sifting through the data, searching for signals that look like promising candidate planets. The TESS team has reported that the mission data have revealed dozens of exciting candidates that they plan to follow up using powerful ground-based telescopes to confirm. The team has begun beta-testing the process by which the community will be notified of these promising “TESS Objects of Interest” (TOIs), with the goal of issuing fully public TOI Alerts in the next few months. The selected beta testers include professional and amateur astronomers who will contribute to the TESS exoplanet follow-up process.
Every new mission goes through a period of data validation and verification before beginning delivery of the final data to a public archive. This serves to test how the pipelines are performing on actual flight data from the mission, and determines whether any changes need to be made before the data are fully prepared for delivery to the archive. In the case of the TESS mission, once the data are delivered to the Mikulski Archive at Space Telescope (MAST) in Baltimore, they will be immediately public, with no proprietary period. The first delivery of TESS data to MAST is expected to occur no later than six months from the start of science observations, and will include all data from the first 4 27-day observations sectors. TOI Alerts will allow the broader astrophysics community, and the general public, to follow along with TESS’s most exciting discoveries, even before the first data are available in the MAST archive.
TESS is a NASA Astrophysics Explorer mission led and operated by MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Dr. George Ricker of MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research serves as principal investigator for the mission. Additional partners include Northrop Grumman, based in Falls Church, Virginia; NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley; the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts; MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington, Massachusetts; and the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. More than a dozen universities, research institutes and observatories worldwide are participants in the mission.
For the latest updates on TESS, visit nasa.gov/tess.