NASA’s TESS Presents Panorama of Southern Sky


portion of TESS southern sky mosaic image

Nov. 5, 2019

NASA’s TESS Presents Panorama of Southern Sky

The glow of the Milky Way — our galaxy seen edgewise — arcs across a sea of stars in a new mosaic of the southern sky produced from a year of observations by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). Constructed from 208 TESS images taken during the mission’s first year of science operations, completed on July 18, the southern panorama reveals both the beauty of the cosmic landscape and the reach of TESS’s cameras.

“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,” said Ethan Kruse, a NASA Postdoctoral Program Fellow who assembled the mosaic at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) spent a year imaging the southern sky in its search for worlds beyond our solar system. Dive into a mosaic of these images to see what TESS has found so far.

Credits: NASA’s Godard Space Flight Center

Download this video in HD formats from NASA Goddard’s Scientific Visualization Studio

Within this scene, TESS has discovered 29 exoplanets, or worlds beyond our solar system, and more than 1,000 candidate planets astronomers are now investigating.

TESS divided the southern sky into 13 sectors and imaged each one of them for nearly a month using four cameras, which carry a total of 16 charge-coupled devices (CCDs). Remarkably, the TESS cameras capture a full sector of the sky every 30 minutes as part of its search for exoplanet transits. Transits occur when a planet passes in front of its host star from our perspective, briefly and regularly dimming its light. During the satellite’s first year of operations, each of its CCDs captured 15,347 30-minute science images. These images are just a part of more than 20 terabytes of southern sky data TESS has returned, comparable to streaming nearly 6,000 high-definition movies.

6,000 high-definition movies.

This mosaic of the southern sky was assembled from 208 images taken by TESS during its first year of science operations.

This mosaic of the southern sky was assembled from 208 images taken by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) during its first year of science operations, completed in July 2019. The mission divided the southern sky into 13 sectors, each of which was imaged for nearly a month by the spacecraft’s four cameras. Among the many notable celestial objects visible is the glowing band (left) of the Milky Way, our home galaxy seen edgewise, the Orion Nebula (top), a nursery for newborn stars, and the Large Magellanic Cloud (center), a nearby galaxy located about 163,000 light-years away. The prominent dark lines are gaps between the detectors in TESS’s camera system.

Credits: NASA/MIT/TESS and Ethan Kruse (USRA)

Download higher-resolution images from NASA Goddard’s Scientific Visualization Studio

In addition to its planet discoveries, TESS has imaged a comet in our solar system, followed the progress of numerous stellar explosions called supernovae, and even caught the flare from a star ripped apart by a supermassive black hole. After completing its southern survey, TESS turned north to begin a year-long study of the northern sky.

TESS is a NASA Astrophysics Explorer mission led and operated by MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Dr. George Ricker of MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research serves as principal investigator for the mission. Additional partners include Northrop Grumman, based in Falls Church, Virginia; NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley; the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts; MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington, Massachusetts; and the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. More than a dozen universities, research institutes and observatories worldwide are participants in the mission.

Banner image: The plane of our Milky Way galaxy arcs across a starry landscape in this detail of the TESS southern sky mosaic. Credit: NASA/MIT/TESS and Ethan Kruse (USRA)

By Francis Reddy
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

Last Updated: Nov. 5, 2019

Editor: Rob Garner

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November 7, 2019 3:39 am

Are those black lines the supports for the greenhouse alarmist’s are always warbling on about?

Reply to  HotScot
November 7, 2019 4:43 am

What I see is a large number of stellar objects all waiting to zap us with a gamma ray burst. link

November 7, 2019 3:44 am

Good to have NASA doing what it does best rather than the ongoing activities associated with the Global Warming scam.

Reply to  AndrewWA
November 7, 2019 10:42 am

+1000, AndrewWA

This kind of work, along with robotic exploration of the Solar System and monitoring the Sun, should be 99% of NASA’s mission.


November 7, 2019 4:32 am

Looks like a view from the Millenium Falcon before entering hyperdrive?

Reply to  Orville
November 7, 2019 2:13 pm

I think it was really named for Tess of the D’Urbervilles. And that’s fine by me.

November 7, 2019 5:37 am

It’s all a numbers game as imaging a star for a few months isn’t likely to see a planet transit across a star unless it is really close in. But if you are throwing a big net, you will still catch some fish.

First you have to be looking at the star on edge of the ecliptic, then the planet would have to pass between the satellite and the star during the observation time. For the Earth and the Sun for example, the chances of seeing it are pretty slim. Even if you got really lucky and could see it cross the Sun, it only happens once every 12 months. But if you are looking at millions of stars you will find some.

Reply to  rbabcock
November 7, 2019 8:03 am

True, however it is the best we have at the moment. We are looking at light sources far across a currently untravelable gap. Right now we are trying to count the natives by watching their shadows dance across the fire. If we see some, we can assume there are others we cannot see for the reasons you stated.

As the dimming and brightening is periodic and repeatable one can determine the cyclical nature and hence orbital speed. From the magnitude of the differential we can surmise the size of the blocking object. We assume by similarity that solar systems are, at least mechanically, like our own.

Yes, its a numbers game. It takes time and innovation to discover these things. I strove for 38 years to make these things happen. Are you helping or merely carping?
“It is better to light one candle than curse the darkness.”

Reply to  Rocketscientist
November 7, 2019 10:21 am

Indeed so. Just as you say.

Until such time as Science produces long-baseline optical synthetic aperture telescopes (of tens-to-hundreds of kilometers of aperture), we won’t be directly imaging planets out there “in the deep galaxy” at all. Only “shadows of dancers against the fire” as you prosaically said.

Few recognize the exquisite instrumentation at play to take, take again, and re-take these huge swath surveys every hour, every day, around the calendar. Literally, we are COUNTING photons. Counting them, to notice fairly subtle dips in the searing brightness of each star occluded. For example, Mercury transiting Sol, as viewed from, oh, Betelgeuse (642 LY or 197 parsec) would result in a drop in Sol’s apparent brightness of some 12 millionth’s of nominal. Earth, 84 millionth’s. Jupiter 10,000 millionths (He’s Big!). Saturn, 7,000 millionths. Uranus & Neptune, about 1,250 millionth’s. Pluto and Ceres … vanishingly small. 2.6 and ½ millionths, respectively.

Remember, its not like each tiny mote as imaged by the TESS scope is delivering a steady stream of photons, here. No… it is a statistical thing: there is ‘noise’ in the reception that is basically a mathematical constant … if the imaging plate receives say 1,000 photons in some period of time (nominally), there is a ±√( 1000 ) or ±30 photon-count ordinary variance at the sensor. And that’s ‘nominal’ variance. Just an ‘expected range’. Could easily range between ±150 over 1,000 successive observations.

By comparison, the transit of Earth would only account for 1000 × (84 ÷ 1000000) = 0.08 photons per thousand. Wow. That is a SMALL difference, considering the ±30 per 1,000 statistical variance.

The CCD imaging plates themselves introduce statistical noise. Keeping them near absolute zero helps, but all the shuttling-of-electrons adds its own kind of noise, to be counted. Still … the same statistics HELPS if the CCD-plates can count way more photons per photocell than merely 1,000. At 250,000 photons, the √( 250,000 ) = 500. Earth’s transit would be 20 down. Still not great. But at a billion? … variance is 31,000 but Earth’s extinction is 84,000. Ah… statistically that’d show up.

Yet, it still takes billions of photons per observed system to find earth-sized planets. And plenty of statistics. And good math. And exquisite optics. And … SCIENCE.

Just Saying,
GoatGuy ✓

Reply to  Rocketscientist
November 7, 2019 11:05 am

PS… a really great derived result is photons-to-detect-transit ≈ (Rs/Rp)⁴ … it cancels out π, everything, in one fell swoop. At this photon-count criterion, the extinction of the star by a planet equals the statistical variance (over the same photon-counting interval) of counting the unobstructed star’s photons. It is a depressingly large number for planets as small as Earth relative to Sol.

(Rs / Rp)⁴ = (695,500 km Sol)⁴ / (6,371 km Earth)⁴ = 142,000,000 photons, counted.

There is an excellent Wikipedia article (and a whole bunch of IES articles) that go into delightful details regarding TESS.

-=GoatGuy ✓=-

November 7, 2019 7:54 am

Fantastic and big as far as can be recorded. And no end to it. Excellent job NASA. Now how to get there in a short time. Gonna have to science the crap out of it to get there. Environmentally speaking.

Tom Moriarty
November 7, 2019 9:19 am

What is on everybody’s mind, of course, is “Are these planets inhabitable, or possibly already inhabited?”

There is a great book, “If the Universe Is Teeming with Aliens … WHERE IS EVERYBODY” by Stephen Webb, with 75 possible solutions to the Fermi Paradox.

I am not sure if this book has ever been discussed on WUWT. It has been around for a while. It is one of my all-time favorites and I highly recommend it.

Reply to  Tom Moriarty
November 7, 2019 11:59 am

Over a lifetime, I’ve done a fair amount of statistical ”analyzing” about ”where are they all?”. Turns out that the bottom-line redux is ”the bigness of space” makes all but the closest and most noisy aliens ‘visible’ or ‘observable’ to us, here, on Planet Dirt. I know that sounds like a banality, but it is also mathematically true.

As a trivial example, today, if we tried with all the observing ‘stuff’ we have, we could not detect the squawking of a civilization, were it to exist, on our nearest neighbor’s purported Goldilocks planet, ~if they weren’t pointing their transmissions directly at us, continuously~. If just squawking across the electromagnetic spectrum, even ‘in aggregate’, their transmissions are basically below the power-of-detectability, here. Because ~space is really big~.

Because 4.1 LY is ~39 trillion kilometers~, or 38.8e15 meters distant.

Because ‘power diminishes as a function of distance, squared’, the power of the entire civilization (there), as listened-for (here), is 6.6e-34 … ‘less per square meter of (our) antenna’, than their entire emission. Actually somewhat worse, but let’s go with that. So, if like Earth, they are emitting maybe 1,000 megawatts of RF at various wavelengths, or 1e9 W, then 1e9 * 6.6e-34 = 6.6e-25 W/m^2 … here. That number goes WAY UP if they actually ~point their transmissions at us~. It isn’t terribly hard to make a narrow-cone transmission antenna that can deliver a megawatt to a cone only 1 arcminute across. To us here, that’d be equivalent to a 12,000,000 megawatt isotropic (broadcast) transmission. 12,000,000 * 1,000,000 * 6.6e-34 = 7.8e-21 W/m^2. Using a 100 meter or larger ‘big ear’, that becomes maybe 1e-16 W.

Which IS at the level of power as received here, on Planet Dirt, from the Voyager spacecraft, now exiting the heliosphere, at the heliopause. So we could hear ’em! But they’d have to be aiming straight at the Solar System, for sure.

The OTHER big take-away was the notion of time itself, human lifetimes, and our ‘persistence’ in both listening and in transmitting energy that might be detected far, far away. Humanity’s ‘radio age’ is barely 100 years old. On a planet that’s had ambling life forms for perhaps 400,000,000 years. Maybe more. More is worse, statistically. There isn’t a single exoplanetary stellar system that we’ve ”pointed” our transmissions at for more than a few dozen hours at a time. And any one of them, WAY less than 10 years. No budget for it, basically.

No persistence.

Clearly one can haul out the good old Unicorn Horn Wand, and wish a future-Humanity that has limitless self-replicating space-manufacturing resources to make HUGE antennae, with HUGE limitless solar power supplies, and HUGE transmitters, with EXQUISITE radio-and-laser detectors. And hundreds, or thousands of them, at no cost at all to Mankind, being self-replicated. Which can light up thousands or even millions of potential target systems with Hi, How Are You Guys transmissions, listening for thousands to hundreds-of-thousands of years. Sure. Yew, unicorn, narwhale horn. All good magic.

Thing is, again, even that is more-or-less in the timeframe ‘framed’ by the human life span. It is far more likely that any space-faring intelligences have ‘lifespans’ which are either indefinite or at least millions of years. Because at millions-of-years, suddenly the Galaxy looks a whole lot smaller. One really doesn’t need to invent warp drives, or wormhole tunneling to acceptably ply the galactic plane, actually visiting places constrained by power-and-the-speed-of-light, if you live a million years. Even if a civilization were to persist without deconstructing itself for millions of years, perish that the individuals do not, even then, interstellar civilization is possible. Just not good Space Opera reading, that’s all.

I have concluded that we’re rather like sand fleas, at this point in our technological nascence. ~Merely 100 years old~. The lifetime of a sand-flea (hours) compared to a great tortoise (150+ years). Or a daisy (1/2 year) compared to an aspen grove (10,000+ years). We’re veritably flitting around like humming birds, compared to the space-faring lack-of-urgency.

Kept in that perspective, it becomes obvious to make several projections which mesh rather well with reality. One, that space-faring entities have been visiting Earth A LOT over the aeons. Life’s progressions ought to be endlessly interesting, if naught but academically. Yet, with hundreds to thousands of visits, over billions of years, their sense of time is simply not matched by us sand-fleas tick-tock rate.

Moreover, as the data from TESS, Kepler and other stellar-occlusion observatories has built up, it is apparent that most-every star has multiple planets. Observationally, since Jupiter and Saturn (and Earth, Uranus and Neptune) all have LOTs of moons relative to their size, and Sol herself has no fewer than 10 planets, with thousands of asteroids and millions-to-billions of Oort and Kuiper belt objects … well, it is no surprise at all that the stars beyond our grasp have huge numbers of attendant orbiting spheres. No surprise whatsoever.

The only real surprise is that there are apparently so few with Earth-like planets at Earth-like orbits which might harbor water in all 3 phases (gas, liquid, ice). Not many at all. Kind of looking like 1 in 1,000 or so. Perhaps TESS will revolutionize this upward to one in a handful, but I kind of doubt it.

This ‘other big statistical finding’ then puts a cap on our expectations, at least for finding other EMF emitting civilizations. If it is one-in-a-thousand, that have planets suitable for and fostering life, then the ”civilization window’ is (insofar as we presently know it) fairly brief. Ours, so far, is 100 years wide. Actually somewhat less. And it is ironically closing, as ‘broadcast’ power is being replaced wholesale with satellite-beamed transmissions. The kind that don’t point outward, to be conveniently detected by the breathlessly waiting patient observers in quite remote civilizations with magic unicorn reception facilities already in place. Not long at all.

These then define why we aren’t seeing the teeming space-aliens. We’re boring. We’re hopelessly short-lived. We’re noisy. We’re hopelessly primitive. Hell, we’re still start-from-scratch-every-time dependent on biological containers for our per-individual intellect and knowledge. Savages, we. Banal, we.

Sand fleas to the Stars.


Nicholas McGinley
Reply to  GoatGuy
November 7, 2019 4:04 pm

I think we are planet Water, not planet Dirt.

Nicholas McGinley
Reply to  GoatGuy
November 7, 2019 4:22 pm

There may be no way for any creature to build any machine that can traverse stellar distances in a number of lifetimes which ensures anyone will ever get anywhere.
Take away the possibility of fusion reactors, warp drives, dilithium crystals, or matter-antimatter pods, or any other imagined but never actually invented sources of power, and the long term survival and ability to colonize other star systems recedes to immense unlikelihood.
And on any given world or solar system, numerous potential catastrophes, rare but unsurvivable, or virtually so, can be rationally postulated to occur at some level of assuredness.
Science fiction writers brush aside the inhospitable nature of space and other planets in the solar system, and wave off the fragility of the machines we built and protective environments we create for ourselves with various types of ships and garments, and how utterly helpless a person becomes in an inhospitable place with only our naked selves to rely on.
People die all the time on day hikes in Spring to medium size mountains and even small wilderness areas.
I am not a pessimistic person, but it is easy to imagine why “where is everybody”.
There are few of them, spread out widely, and do not have huge megaphones, the time, or the inclination to speak to us.
On the other hand, it could be we are like young Bambi in a large crowded forest, and we are the only naifs unaware of the tigers and lions and bears as we stomp around and yell out “Hey, anyone out there?”
The day we are found by some other civilization or space faring life form could be the worst day in history, and our last day.

Alastair Brickell
Reply to  GoatGuy
November 8, 2019 12:38 am

November 7, 2019 at 11:59 am

Thanks for some interesting perspectives I hadn’t considered before.

Johann Wundersamer
Reply to  GoatGuy
November 19, 2019 1:30 pm

Ours, so far, is 100 years wide –> Ours, so far, is 100 years radius wide

Johann Wundersamer
Reply to  GoatGuy
November 19, 2019 1:38 pm

If they WERE out there min. until before (10,000 – 100) ys in max. (10,000 – 100) LY distance AND able to do radio broadcast

then we should know of them:

No, most probably – go ahead, nothing to see / listen here.

Michael S. Kelly LS, BSA Ret.
November 7, 2019 3:24 pm

I’m surprised the article didn’t mention the full name of the project: Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite of the Distributed University Research Body Executing Research Via Interagency and Locally Led Expert Scientists (TESS of the D URBERVILLES).

[Hardy har har!]

Johann Wundersamer
November 19, 2019 1:40 pm

My fault –>

If they WERE out there min. until before (10,000 – 50) ys in max. (10,000 – 50) LY distance AND able to do radio broadcast

then we should know of them:

No, most probably – go ahead, nothing to see / listen here.

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