NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) officially began scientific operations at the end of last month, a move that will help the space agency search the vast sky for the existence of distant exoplanets.
But while the TESS’ primary function might be exoplanet discovery, that didn’t prevent the spacecraft from witnessing a stunning comet flyby on July 25th, just before scientific operations went live.
Image Credit: Massachusetts Institute of Technology/NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
In an official statement, NASA shared the following footage that shows 17 hours’ worth of footage of comet C/2018 N1 buzzing past TESS’ optical equipment:
The comet is the brightest and most eye-catching object in the entire frame, but also visible in the surroundings are assorted asteroids, variable stars, and even light that has been reflected by the neighboring planet of Mars.
If you look closely, you’ll also see the comet’s tail pointing toward the top of the frame. The tail points away from the direction of the Sun, as it’s comprised of tiny particles that are being stripped away from the comet by the solar wind.
Comet C/2018 N1 was initially discovered by NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) satellite on June 29. It was approximately 29 million miles away from Earth when it was picked up by TESS’ instruments.
Worthy of note, TESS sports an enormous field of view that will help astronomers discover distant worlds, and this video footage demonstrates only a small fraction of it.
It should be interesting to see what TESS discovers as scientific observations continue. After all, it has the Kepler Space Telescope’s legacy to compete with, and could also help astronomers discover new targets to study with the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope.