NASA’s TESS planet-hunter zoomed within about 5,000 miles (8,000 kilometers) of the moon yesterday (May 17). And it snapped its new test image.

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) launched just last month on a mission to find alien worlds circling stars close to the sun.

Yesterday the new satellite successfully completed a lunar flyby. Thus, receiving some gravity boost to help TESS reach its final science orbit.

So, the spacecraft is now one step closer to searching for new worlds. TESS will search for exoplanets between 30 and 300 light-years away.

TESS science team used one of the spacecraft’s four cameras to snap a two-second test image (shown above). The view is centered on the southern constellation Centaurus and showing more than 200,000 stars.

“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,” NASA officials wrote in a statement yesterday (May 18).

Scientists expect TESS to cover more than 400 times as much sky as shown in this image

NASA also expects to release a new science-quality image, referred to as a “first light” image, somewhere in June.

Orbit of TESS

TESS will undergo one final thruster burn on May 30 to enter its science orbit around Earth that no spacecraft has ever occupied before.

“This highly elliptical orbit will maximize the amount of sky the spacecraft can image, allowing it to continuously monitor large swaths of the sky,” NASA officials wrote in the same statement. “TESS is expected to begin science operations in mid-June after reaching this orbit and completing camera calibrations”.

The farthest point, or apogee, will be 232,000 miles (373,000 kilometers) from Earth. Thus, allowing the spacecraft to survey part of the sky without interference from the moon or our planet. The closest point in the orbit, or perigee, will be 67,000 miles (108,000 km), which is about three times the altitude of geosynchronous satellites. So, TESS will beam back information after every close encounter with Earth.

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Thumbnail image: This is the 1st test image from the TESS planet-hunter. It shows a swath of the southern sky along the plane of our Milky Way galaxy. Credit: NASA/MIT/TESS