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NASA's continued quest to explore our solar system and beyond received a boost of new information this week with three key missions proving not only that they are up and running, but that their science potential is exceptional. On Sept. 17, 2018, TESS—the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite—shared its first science observations. Later in the week, the latest two missions to join NASA's heliophysics fleet returned first light data: Parker Solar Probe, humanity's first mission to "touch" the Sun, and GOLD, a mission that studies the dynamic boundary between Earth and space.
Part of the data from TESS's initial science orbit includes a detailed picture of the southern sky taken with all four of the planet-hunter's wide-field cameras. The image captures a wealth of stars and other objects, including systems previously known to have exoplanets, planets beyond our solar system. TESS will spend the next two years monitoring the nearest, brightest stars for periodic dips in their brightness, known as transits. Such transits suggest a planet may be passing in front of its parent star. TESS is expected to find thousands of new planets using this method.
Missions - Observation - Points - System - Particles
Together, the two other missions represent two key observation points in the giant system of space—dominated by particles and magnetic energy from the Sun—studied by the field of heliophysics. Parker Solar Probe will help us understand how the Sun's atmosphere drives particles out into space; GOLD monitors changes in the space close to Earth, much of them driven by ever-changing solar activity. The two viewpoints support heliophysics' focus on our star and how it influences the very nature of space—and, in turn, the atmospheres of planets and human technology.
In early September, each of Parker Solar Probe's four instrument suites powered on and returned their first observations on the spacecraft's journey to the Sun. While the data...
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