Nasa's planet hunter Tess beams back stunning images of comet in motion

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) and its latest planet-hunting probe Tess has caught a comet in motion. The space agency's probe has relayed a stunning sequence of images that which a comet in motion 48 million km from Earth. Space enthusiasts are finding the photos mesmerising.

These photos were taken over the frame of 17 hours on July 25, the day the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (Tess) started science operations.

The imaged helped demonstrate the satellite's ability to fetch a prolonged set if stable periodic images covering a wide region of the sky - all critical factors in finding transiting planets orbiting nearby stars.

COMET C/2018 N1

Over the course of these tests, Tess took images of C/2018 N1, a comet discovered by Nasa's Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) satellite on June 29.

The comet which is located about 48 million km from Earth in the southern constellation Piscis Austrinus is seen to move across the frame from right to left as it orbits the Sun. The tail of the comet consists of gases carried away from the comet by an outflow from the Sun called the solar wind. C/2018 N1 extends to the top of the frame and gradually pivots as the comet glides the field of view.


Apart from the comet, the images also showed a celestial treasure trove. Tess took photos of other astronomical activities like where the stars appear to shift between white and black as a result of image precessing.

The shift also highlights variable stars, which change brightness either as a result of pulsation, rapid rotation, or by eclipsing binary neighbours. Asteroids in our solar system appear as small white dots moving across the field of view. The light drifting from Mars located outside the frame can be seen as a faint broad arc of light which is moving across the middle section of the frame from left to right.

The space agency's Tess took the images when Mars was at its brightest near opposition, or its closest distance, to Earth. The images were taken during a short period near the end of the mission's commissioning phase, prior to the start of science operations. They put on table just a small fraction of Tess' active field of view.

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