NASA's Planet-Hunting TESS Spacecraft Snaps Spectacular Panorama of the Milky Way

NASA's planet-hunting spacecraft created a spectacular panorama of the southern sky that shows off our home galaxy, the Milky Way.

The panorama includes 208 images that the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) took during its first year of science operations, which wrapped up July 18. This sweep of the sky is a bit of a broader view than usual for the mission, which is optimized to look at small planets as they pass in front of their parent stars and slightly block the light of the stars. 

"Analysis of TESS data focuses on individual stars and planets one at a time, but I wanted to step back and highlight everything at once, really emphasizing the spectacular view TESS gives us of the entire sky," Ethan Kruse, a NASA postdoctoral program fellow who assembled the mosaic at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, said in a statement.

Related: NASA's TESS Exoplanet-Hunting Mission in Pictures
Video: Stunning Southern Sky Panorama Created with NASA TESS

This mosaic of the southern sky combines 208 images taken by NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite during its first year of science operations. Visible in this image are the Milky Way, the Orion Nebula (near the top) and the Large Magellanic Cloud (at the center). (Image credit: NASA/MIT/TESS/Ethan Kruse/USRA)

Embedded in these images are 29 confirmed exoplanets that TESS discovered so far, as well as 1,000 candidate worlds that astronomers are looking to confirm. (Typically, TESS observations in space are followed up with observations by telescopes on the ground to verify an exoplanet's existence.) The spacecraft also imaged a comet, star explosions (which are called supernovas) and even a star being ripped apart by a supermassive black hole.

TESS got the images by dividing the southern sky into 13 sectors and then staring at each spot in the sky for almost a month. Each of the spacecraft's charged-coupled-device cameras captured 15,347 30-minute science images. Overall, TESS recorded more than 20 terabytes of data — the equivalent of nearly 6,000 high-definition movies. Now, TESS is working on a one-year survey of the northern sky.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: