The BBC news podcast Science in Action episode New Planet Hunting Mission covers the upcoming TESS mission between 01:00 and 07:15 with Sara Seager, TESS deputy director of science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

After about 05:00 Dr. Seager mentions that the TESS spacecraft will measure a special set of order 20,000 stars in each camera's 24x24 degree field at a two minute cadence.

How were the stars in each field selected for TESS?

The excellent YouTube video Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) nicely explains how TESS operates and will slowly tile the celestial sphere.

below: From see TESS Operations. Click for full size.

TESS observations

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    $\begingroup$ I think there are 6000 stars too bright for TESS to target. $\endgroup$
    – Mike G
    Commented Apr 13, 2018 at 5:06
  • $\begingroup$ @MikeG ah indeed! "...hat should not be included in TESS Cycle 1..." I'll edit, thank you! $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Apr 13, 2018 at 5:43

1 Answer 1


A combination of algorithm and by committee.

The majority of targets are bright, low-mass dwarf stars. The primary goal of TESS is to discover planets by transit, and these targets offer the best chance of that. The way this is done is described by Stassun et al. (2017). This paper summarises how an input catalogue is constructed (from many data sources) and used to estimate a luminosity, distance, temperature, mass and radius for each star. The catalogue is substantially complete for stars capable of being observed by TESS, since it is based on the 2MASS all-sky catalogue.

The candidate target list is designed to meet the priorities of the NASA TESS mission - to find small (rocky) planets in $<10$ day orbits using the transit technique. A subset of targets (near the ecliptic poles) are observed for longer, and there, there is a possibility of finding small planets in longer orbits - up to 120 days. The steps that are taken to prioritise this list are (i) remove giants -- too big for appreciable transits to be detected; (ii) avoid crowded sources -- the TESS point spread function is quite large; (iii) the prioritisation of small stars (which give a large transit signal) and of bright stars (which yield more signal-to-noise in the light curves). The final priorities are artificially boosted for those stars near the ecliptic poles (the continuous viewing zone) and reduced for stars near the galactic plane, where the de-reddening calculations are more uncertain.

However, space in the target list was also reserved for targets selected by the "community". There were a number of working groups setup (by science area - I was in the open star clusters group).

There was then an open call for proposals last September to bid for which stars to include in the 2-minute cadence list. The bids were mainly from the working groups. A committee (of astronomers) then met to decide which bids/targets were meritorious.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for this excellent and thorough answer, or what I'd call a "Rob Jeffries special". The details are complex, and you've taken the time to wade through the article and explain all of the considerations in an easy to understand way. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Apr 15, 2018 at 5:34

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