NASA Planet-Hunting TESS Chronicles Comet Outburst; Might Finally Crack The Code


NASA has been exploring other planets in a search for alien life. However, NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) has now captured a comet emitting ice, dust, and gas. We know that comet outbursts are natural, but they're difficult to stop. Moreover, scientists never fully understood the reason behind these outbursts. Well, this might have changed.

NASA Planet-Hunting TESS Chronicles Comet Outburst


NASA TESS Captures Comet Outburst

The NASA TESS spacecraft searches for planets frequently orbiting their stars and sends back photos regularly of the sky and keeps shifting to search for other planets. The images from TESS are planets that appear as brief, repetitive dips in a star's light. But TESS helps study various space phenomena that occur briefly and are hard to study.

The new visual from NASA helps understand a few things about comet discharges. Now we know it shines brighter during such a phenomenon. NASA's TESS observed an outburst on the Comet 46P/Wirtanen that flew by Earth a year ago. Scientists believe the comet's discharge could have created a crater that's almost 20m wide on its icy surface.

The Wirtanen comet "was a high priority for us because of its close approach in late 2018, so we decided to use its appearance in the TESS images as a test case to see what we could get out of it," said Tony Farnham, an astronomer at the University of Maryland and lead author of the study in a statement. The comet visual was indeed a surprise for the entire team.

NASA TESS Aids Comet Observation

Farnham and his team could calculate when TESS would catch sight of the comet. However, they didn't know they were going in for a surprise cosmic show. Farnham further notes that predicting such comet outbursts is nearly impossible. "But even if we somehow had the opportunity to schedule these observations, we couldn't have done any better in terms of timing. The outburst happened mere days after the observations started," he said.


The observation has given the team the entire lifecycle of the comet outburst. This could be the guide for the most detailed observation of a comet outburst. NASA TESS has given the team a new image every half an hour for 20 days straight. The data will help scientists and researchers study and identify the different phases of the event for the first time.

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