Three of NASA's key space missions that look to explore our solar system have all returned fresh information that the company said has "exceptional potential" in science research.
The three missions comprise the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), which shared its first science observations late last week, as well as two missions that joined NASA's heliophysics fleet and returned first light data.
These are the Parker Solar Probe, humanity's first mission to "touch" the Sun, and GOLD, a mission to study the dynamic boundary between Earth and space.
The most exciting part of the data comes from TESS's initial science orbit, which 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," NASA said.
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.
Together, the two other missions represent two key observation points in the giant system of space, studied by the field of heliophysics.
"Parker Solar Probe will help us understand how the Sun's atmosphere drives particles out into space [while] GOLD monitors changes in the space close to Earth, much of them driven by ever-changing solar activity," NASA explained.
"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."
The instruments work in tandem to measure the Sun's electric and magnetic fields and particles from the Sun and solar wind. They also capture images of the solar wind environment around the spacecraft.
The mission's first close approach to the Sun will be in early November 2018, but even now, still outside the orbit of Venus, the instruments indicate they're ready to gather measurements of what's happening in the solar wind.
"All instruments returned data that not only serves for calibration but also captures glimpses of what we expect them to measure near the Sun to solve the mysteries of the solar atmosphere, the corona," said Nour Raouafi, Parker Solar Probe project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, Maryland.
Meanwhile, Parker Solar Probe will travel into the blazing corona, closer to the Sun than any spacecraft before it. The mission looks to answer fundamental questions about the Sun, such as questions that lie at the root of understanding how solar activity shapes space weather across the solar system.
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