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NASA’s TESS has discovered 5,000 exoplanet candidates

NASA’s planet-hunting satellite TESS, or the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, has passed an impressive milestone, having identified 5,000 potential exoplanets. Launched in 2018, the hard-working telescope has been used by researchers from a variety of institutions to find tell-tale indications of planets outside our solar system.

Many of the objects TESS identifies are referred to as potential exoplanets, or TESS Objects of Interest (TOIs) because it requires multiple observations to confirm that a given signal is in fact an exoplanet. Currently, of the over 5,000 candidates discovered, 176 have been confirmed as exoplanets.

Illustration of the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) in front of a lava planet orbiting its host star. NASA/GSFC

The recent batch of planetary candidates which pushed TESS over the 5,000 mark was found as part of the Faint Star Search, led by Michelle Kunimoto of MIT. “This time last year, TESS had found just over 2,400 TOIs,” Kunimoto said in a statement. “Today, TESS has reached more than twice that number — a huge testament to the mission and all the teams scouring the data for new planets. I’m excited to see thousands more in the years to come!”

TESS has helped to discover a remarkable variety of exoplanets, from potentially habitable worlds to a planet where it shouldn’t be to planets right near to our solar system to a tiny, hellish planet where a year lasts eight hours.

A map of the sky is now crowded with over 5,000 exoplanet candidates from NASA’s TESS mission.
A map of the sky is now crowded with over 5,000 exoplanet candidates from NASA’s TESS mission. The TESS Science Office at MIT released the most recent batch of TESS Objects of Interest (large orange points on the map) on Dec. 21, boosting the catalog to this 5,000-count milestone. NASA/MIT/TESS

TESS’s original mission ran from 2018 to 2020, but it was so successful it also had an extended mission from 2020 to 2022, so there is still time for it to discover yet more intriguing planets. “With data from the first year of the extended mission, we have found dozens of additional candidates to TOIs found during the prime mission,” said TOI manager Katharine Hesse. “I am excited to see how many multi-planet systems we can find during the rest of the extended mission and in upcoming years with TESS.”

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