Skip to main content

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.

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook

All About Space Holiday 2019

Need more space? Subscribe to our sister title "All About Space" Magazine for the latest amazing news from the final frontier! (Image credit: All About Space)

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at:

Elizabeth Howell
Elizabeth Howell is a contributing writer for who is one of the few Canadian journalists to report regularly on space exploration. She is pursuing a Ph.D. part-time in aerospace sciences (University of North Dakota) after completing an M.Sc. (space studies) at the same institution. She also holds a bachelor of journalism degree from Carleton University. Besides writing, Elizabeth teaches communications at the university and community college level. To see her latest projects, follow Elizabeth on Twitter at @HowellSpace.