After launching on April 18, the TESS exoplanet-seeking satellite has recently begun science operations at the end of July. But before it got down to business, the spacecraft sent back a cute postcard from millions of miles away, NASA has just announced.
Short for Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, TESS has managed to snap a few photos of a brand-new comet lying some 29 million miles (48 million kilometers) from our planet, in the southern constellation Piscis Austrinus.
Taken over a period of 17 hours, the snapshots were captured by TESS right before the start of its science operations on July 25 and are described by NASA as “a stunning sequence of serendipitous images.”
The space agency has compiled the photos into a short clip, unveiled today on its website. Scroll down to check out the incredible video, uploaded on YouTube by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
The amazing footage reveals unique views of the newly-found comet, following its motion on its orbit around the sun.
“The comet’s tail, which consists of gases carried away from the comet by an outflow from the sun called the solar wind, extends to the top of the frame and gradually pivots as the comet glides across the field of view,” NASA officials state in the video release.
Dubbed C/2018 N1, the comet was only discovered on June 29 by another one of NASA’s satellites, the Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE).
#Space : NASA’s planet-hunting TESS catches a comet before starting science, demonstrating the satellite’s ability to collect a prolonged set of stable periodic images covering a broad region of the sky – https://t.co/hRP7GBCpeF pic.twitter.com/KSL9TytHVm
— The Royal Vox Post (@RoyalVoxPost) August 6, 2018
The great thing about this footage is that it not only captures a rare sighting of C/2018 N1, but also “a treasure trove of other astronomical activity,” such as asteroids, variable stars, and even reflected light from Mars, notes the space agency.
For instance, the light coming from the red planet appears toward the end of the clip as “a faint broad arc of light moving across the middle section of the frame from left to right.”
“This is stray light from Mars, which is located outside the frame,” NASA explains.
As the Inquisitr previously reported, at the time these photos were taken Mars was inching its way toward opposition and its closest approach to our planet, shining a lot brighter than usual.
Meanwhile, the small white dots featured in the clip are asteroids, whereas the variable stars can be spotted in the glowing specks of light that change from bright to dark.
According to the space agency, the new photos are part of a test meant to assess TESS’ sharp exoplanet-hunting abilities and “helped demonstrate the satellite’s ability to collect a prolonged set of stable periodic images covering a broad region of the sky” — something which will come in handy when the satellite starts tracking down alien planets.
This spring, TESS beamed back another interesting photo after a flyby of the moon on May 17, the Inquisitr reported at the time.