On a cold, clear night in January, MIT astrophysicist George Ricker and his students stepped onto a rooftop on campus and aimed a giant camera at the highest point in the sky.
That camera, an engineering model of the four being launched with NASA’s TESS mission, revealed a night thick with stars.
“In two seconds you could see things that were a hundred thousand to a million times fainter than what you could see with your naked eye,” said Ricker, the mission’s principal investigator.
The test offered a small taste of what TESS, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, will discover after it launches as early as Monday afternoon. The spacecraft will scan almost all of the sky for neighboring stars, searching for the dips in their brightness that signal the presence of a planet.