NASA planet hunter TESS snaps comet zipping through space

NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite might looking for planets, but it caught a spectacular view of a flying comet.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser

NASA sent its Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) into orbit aboard a SpaceX rocket earlier this year. Since then, it's been snapping scenic test images, and it's now gifted us with a look at a bright comet dashing through the cosmos.

The space agency calls the images "serendipitous" and "stunning."   

NASA compiled the series of TESS images into a video showing the motion of comet C/2018 N1. TESS snapped the images on July 25, when it officially started its science operations. The comet was spotted by NASA's Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (Neowise) satellite back on June 29.

Seen in sequence, the images show a ball of light moving from right to left, but there's a lot more going on. NASA's video of the event highlights the comet tail shifting direction and points out stars with changing brightness. The grainy-looking bits that don't move are other stars. The small moving white dots are asteroids.

TESS is searching for exoplanets located outside our solar system. NASA expects it will reveal thousands of previously unknown planets, and the comet video is a delightful bonus.

Cosmic dead ringers: 27 super strange-looking space objects

See all photos