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5 Years, 8 Discoveries: NASA Exoplanet Explorer Sees Dancing Stars & a Star-Shredding Black…

5 Years, 8 Discoveries: NASA Exoplanet Explorer Sees Dancing Stars & a Star-Shredding Black…

5 Years, 8 Discoveries: NASA Exoplanet Explorer Sees Dancing Stars & a Star-Shredding Black Hole

TESS images build in vertical strips of four individual squares. Each square shows a small section of sky. They come together to form a flattened look at Earth’s sky as seen through the TESS telescope. It is an area shown in black-and-white with the bright, dusty Milky way curving through the center of the image. The north and south ecliptic poles lie at the top and bottom of the image. The Andromeda galaxy is the small, bright oval near the upper right edge. The Large Magellanic Cloud can be seen along the bottom edge just left of center. Above and to the left of it shine the Small Magellanic Cloud and the bright star cluster 47 Tucanae. Credit: NASA/MIT/TESS and Ethan Kruse (University of Maryland College Park)ALT

This all-sky mosaic was constructed from 912 Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) images. Prominent features include the Milky Way, a glowing arc that represents the bright central plane of our galaxy, and the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds – satellite galaxies of our own located, respectively, 160,000 and 200,000 light-years away. In the northern sky, look for the small, oblong shape of the Andromeda galaxy (M 31), the closest big spiral galaxy, located 2.5 million light-years away. The black regions are areas of sky that TESS didn’t image. Credit: NASA/MIT/TESS and Ethan Kruse (University of Maryland College Park)

On April 18, 2018, we launched the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, better known as TESS. It was designed to search for planets beyond our solar system – exoplanets – and to discover worlds for our James Webb Space Telescope, which launched three years later, to further explore. TESS images sections of sky, one hemisphere at a time. When we put all the images together, we get a great look at Earth’s sky!

In its five years in space, TESS has discovered 326 planets and more than 4,300 planet candidates. Along the way, the spacecraft has observed a plethora of other objects in space, including watching as a black hole devoured a star and seeing six stars dancing in space. Here are some notable results from TESS so far:

An infographic with a blue line drawing of the TESS spacecraft is headlined, “TESS, By the Numbers”. It is followed by large numbers with explanations: 329 exoplanets discovered, 4,300 plus exoplanet candidates; 1,500 research papers; 93 percent of sky observed; 5 years in space; 251 terabytes of image data; 467,768 objects observed at high precision; 50 nations contributing science. Credit: NASA/JPL-CaltechALT

During its first five years in space, our Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite has discovered exoplanets and identified worlds that can be further explored by the James Webb Space Telescope. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

1. TESS’ first discovery was a world called Pi Mensae c. It orbits the star Pi Mensae, about 60 light-years away from Earth and visible to the unaided eye in the Southern Hemisphere. This discovery kicked off NASA’s new era of planet hunting.

2. Studying planets often helps us learn about stars too! Data from TESS & Spitzer helped scientists detect a planet around the young, flaring star AU Mic, providing a unique way to study how planets form, evolve, and interact with active stars.

A vintage style travel poster shows giant flares from a giant, bright young star in oranges, reds and bright yellow burst from the star, affecting a nearby planet. You can see the planet’s atmosphere being blasted away by the energy. It says, Located less than 32 light-years from Earth, AU Microscopii is among the youngest planetary systems ever observed by astronomers, and its star throws vicious temper tantrums! You’ve heard of the “terrible twos”? Well, AU Mic is in the midst of its terrible 22 … millions! This devilish young system holds planet AU Mic b captive inside a looming disk of ghostly dust and ceaselessly torments it with deadly blasts of X-rays and other radiation, thwarting any chance of life… as we know it! Beware! There is no escaping the stellar fury of this system. The monstrous flares of AU Mic will have you begging for eternal darkness. Credit: NASA/JPL-CaltechALT
Ubicado a menos de 32 años luz de la Tierra, AU Microscopii se encuentra entre los sistemas planetarios más jóvenes jamás observados por los astrónomos, ¡y su estrella tiene unas brutales rabietas! ¿Has oído hablar de los "terribles dos años"? Pues AU Mic está en medio de sus terribles 22… ¡millones de años! Este sistema joven diabólico mantiene cautivo a su planeta, AU Mic b, dentro de un disco de polvo fantasmal y lo atormenta incesantemente con explosiones mortales de rayos X y otras radiaciones, frustrando cualquier posibilidad de vida ... ¡tal como la conocemos! ¡Cuidado! No hay escapatoria a la furia estelar de este sistema. Las llamaradas monstruosas de AU Mic te harán rogar por la oscuridad eterna. Crédito de imagen: NASA/JPL-CaltechALT

Located less than 32 light-years from Earth, AU Microscopii is among the youngest planetary systems ever observed by astronomers, and its star throws vicious temper tantrums. This devilish young system holds planet AU Mic b captive inside a looming disk of ghostly dust and ceaselessly torments it with deadly blasts of X-rays and other radiation, thwarting any chance of life… as we know it! Beware! There is no escaping the stellar fury of this system. The monstrous flares of AU Mic will have you begging for eternal darkness. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

3. In addition to finding exoplanets on its own, TESS serves as a pathfinder for the James Webb Space Telescope. TESS discovered the rocky world LHS 3844 b, but Webb will tell us more about its composition. Our telescopes, much like our scientists, work together.

4. Though TESS may be a planet-hunter, it also helps us study black holes! In 2019, TESS saw a ‘‘tidal disruption event,’’ otherwise known as a black hole shredding a star.

An animated illustration shows a tidal disruption, which occurs when a passing star gets too close to a black hole and is torn apart into a stream of gas. Some of the gas eventually settles into a structure around the black hole called an accretion disk. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight CenterALT

When a star strays too close to a black hole, intense tides break it apart into a stream of gas. The tail of the stream escapes the system, while the rest of it swings back around, surrounding the black hole with a disk of debris. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

5. In 2020, TESS discovered its first Earth-size world in the habitable zone of its star – the distance from a star at which liquid water could exist on a planet’s surface. Earlier this year, a second rocky planet was discovered in the system.

In an animation, four planets are shown orbiting a red dwarf star labeled TOI 700. Planets b and c orbit well within a region overlaid in green and labeled optimistic habitable zone and overlaid in yellow and labeled optimistic habitable zone. Planet d orbits consistently in the conservative habitable zone, while planet e moves between the conservative and optimistic habitable zone. Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight CenterALT

You can see the exoplanets that orbit the star TOI 700 moving within two marked habitable zones, a conservative habitable zone, and an optimistic habitable zone. Planet d orbits within the conservative habitable zone, while planet e moves within an optimistic habitable zone, the range of distances from a star where liquid surface water could be present at some point in a planet’s history. Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

6. Astronomers used TESS to find a six-star system where all stars undergo eclipses. Three binary pairs orbit each other, and, in turn, the pairs are engaged in an elaborate gravitational dance in a cosmic ballroom 1,900 light-years away in the constellation Eridanus.

This diagram depicts six stars that interact with each other in complex orbits. The stars are arranged in pairs: Systems A, B, and C, are each shown with one larger white star and one smaller orange star. The two stars of System A, in the upper left, are connected by a red oval and labeled ALT

7. Thanks to TESS, we learned that Delta Scuti stars pulse to the beat of their own drummer. Most seem to oscillate randomly, but we now know HD 31901 taps out a beat that merges 55 pulsation patterns.

An animation shows a bright blue-white star pulsing with vibrations. In a cutaway that reveals the star’s inner workings, waves are represented by blue arrows and they radiate from the center outward to the star’s surface and back again. 
Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight CenterALT

Sound waves bouncing around inside a star cause it to expand and contract, which results in detectable brightness changes. This animation depicts one type of Delta Scuti pulsation — called a radial mode — that is driven by waves (blue arrows) traveling between the star’s core and surface. In reality, a star may pulsate in many different modes, creating complicated patterns that enable scientists to learn about its interior. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

8. Last is a galaxy that flares like clockwork! With TESS and Swift, astronomers identified the most predictably and frequently flaring active galaxy yet. ASASSN-14ko, which is 570 million light-years away, brightens every 114 days!

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