NASA’s Planet Hunter TESS Already Photographed a Passing Comet

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The new space telescope TESS has started its job a few days ago and while preparing to scan for planets outside our solar system, it spotted a comet passing by.

It was 25 July when TESS started its 17-hour long observation. According to NASA, this observation was made to test the telescope’s ability to gather a “prolonged set of stable periodic images covering a broad region of the sky.”

The satellite also snapped images of a comet which was discovered only a month before (29 June). The comet is named C/2018 N1, it is at almost 48 million kilometers away from our planet and the images captured by TESS show the comet moving over the constellation Piscis Austrinus.

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite

The images are very important, revealing a lot of information on the comet. The details can be seen in this video uploaded by NASA on YouTube.

In the video, you will notice that some of the stars change from black to white. This happens after the image is processed, and it helps scientists find variable stars which experience changes in brightness because of their pulsation, rotation or binary companions that eclipse them.

There are also some white dots in the footage, which seem to move from right to left – they are asteroids.

TESS will look for exoplanets by scanning a wide region of the sky for long periods. It uses a method called transit – hence the name Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, which means that whenever an orbiting planet moves around its star, it will change the way that star shines, causing a dip in its light. So, staring at the sky for a long time allow TESS to find these dips.

The same method was used by the previous satellite called Kepler, which has detected thousands of planets outside our solar system.

TESS has started its science operations recently, so we’re about to get more information soon.


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