• NASA has revealed a panoramic image of the Northern Sky taken by TESS
  • TESS is a survey satellite with a purpose to discover exoplanets
  • With its newly improved data collection and processing, TESS will be able to take more precise observations on its next mission

NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) has taken about 208 photos of the Northern Sky, resulting in a mesmerizing panorama. NASA's satellite which launched back in 2018 has captured about 75% of the sky in its two-year survey.

TESS, a survey satellite, has successfully carried out its purpose to hunt and discover exoplanets well beyond our solar system. To date, it has discovered 74 exoplanets. Astronomers are currently going through an additional 1,200 candidates, where most still await confirmation. About 600 of these exoplanets are found in the Northern Sky.

The Northern mosaic only displays a portion of the data TESS has returned. The satellite divided the celestial hemisphere into 13 sectors -- capturing photos of each sector for nearly a month using four cameras, NASA noted. It would also capture photos of a full sector of the sky every 30 minutes. As a result, the survey satellite has brought back around 40 terabytes of data so far -- equivalent to streaming 12,000 movies in high definition.

The image shows a region in the constellation Cygnus with the "sprawling dark nebula" Le Gentil 3 in the middle. Among other notable celestial objects in the panorama are the glowing arc and obscuring dust clouds of the Milky Way; the Andromeda galaxy, about 2.5 million light-years away; and the North America Nebula.

TESS northern panorama, Cygnus
This detail of the TESS northern panorama features a region in the constellation Cygnus. At center, the sprawling dark nebula Le Gentil 3, a vast cloud of interstellar dust, obscures the light of more distant stars. A prominent tendril extending to the lower left points toward the bright North America Nebula, glowing gas so named for its resemblance to the continent. NASA/MIT/TESS and Ethan Kruse (USRA)

The satellite fulfills its mission of locating exoplanets by monitoring a large number of stars over a vast region of the sky. Once an exoplanet orbits its host star, it blocks some of the star's light, causing it to temporarily dim. TESS is able to discover exoplanets by looking for changes in a star's brightness.

This technique has proven itself highly effective, and takes credit for about three quarters of the nearly 4,300 exoplanets now known to Earth.

Over the course of its next mission however, TESS will be spending another year to image the North's counterpart and continue its mission to discover more exoplanets and revisit the ones it had uncovered during its first mission. To better execute its tasks, improvements to TESS' data collection and processing have been made, which will now allow the satellite to return full sector images every 10 minutes and measure the brightness of stars every 20 seconds.

“These changes promise to make TESS’s extended mission even more fruitful,” said Padi Boyd, TESS' project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. “Making high-precision measurements of stellar brightness at these frequencies makes TESS an extraordinary new resource for studying flaring and pulsating stars and other transient phenomena, as well as for exploring the science of transiting exoplanets.”

TESS is a NASA Astrophysics Explorer mission led and operated by MIT. It launched on April 18, 2018 aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket and is set to survey around 200,000 of the brightest stars near the Sun. The satellite is continuously on the lookout for more exoplanets-- including those that could support life.