NASA’s New Planet-hunting Telescope Captures A Distant Comet

Posted: Aug 11 2018, 9:32am CDT | by , in News | Latest Science News

 
NASA’s New Planet-hunting Telescope Captures a Distant Comet
Credit: NASA

TESS takes stable periodic images of a comet that is located about 29 million miles from Earth.

NASA’s newest planet-hunting telescope TESS has officially begun its search for planets outside solar system on July 25. But before it started science operations, the telescope stumbled upon a distant comet traveling through space.

The comet, named C/2018 N, is located about 29 million miles from Earth in the southern constellation Piscis Austrinus. It was originally discovered by NASA's Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) satellite on June 29 and entered the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite’s field of view on July 25. The comet passed through the TESS view from right to left as it orbits the Sun. Images taken over the course of 17 hours also show a bright tail of gas that extends from the top of the comet. The tail is a signature feature of a comet that always point away from the sun due to solar wind.

Apart from the comet, the images reveal a treasure trove of other astronomical objects like variable stars and asteroids. Variable stars are known for their drastic change in brightness and these fluctuations are caused by pulsation or rapid rotation. TESS even observed a faint arc of light coming from Mars. The images were taken shortly before the start of TESS mission and represent just a small fraction of satellite’s active field of view.

TESS is NASA’s latest mission that aims to search for nearby exoplanets. The mission will spend the next two years scanning nearly the entire sky and monitoring more than 20 million brightest stars for periodic dips in their light. These dips in brightness suggest that a planet may be passing in front of its star. TESS is expected to find thousands of planets over the course of two-year survey and some of those could potentially support life.

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