Space Photos of the Week: Eyes in the Sky

NASA’s new exoplanet telescope, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS for short, recently released a new panoramic photo of the arc of our Milky Way surrounded by an endless array of stars.

TESS—a successor to the Kepler Space Telescope, which ran out of fuel in 2018 after almost a decade in space—spends its time staring at other stars looking for other planets. We’re not the only solar system in the universe, after all! In fact, Kepler has so far identified more than 5,000 planets orbiting other stars. These planets sometimes look similar to Earth, but many look a lot like Venus or Neptune.

The discovery of exoplanets not only has shifted our way of thinking about planet formation, but also has given us an opportunity to consider other places where life might be lurking in the universe. Looking up always fills us with wonder, but so does looking down—the Earth from above inspires just as much awe.

The mission of NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, which launched in 2018, is to hunt for planets in other solar systems. TESS, as it’s known, finds these exoplanets by watching a star and waiting for a planet to pass in front; when that happens it can detect a slight dip in the light from the star. To create this picture, the team combined 208 images of 13 different patches of sky. Twenty-nine exoplanets are hiding in there, though we can’t see them in this image. Photograph: NASA/MIT/TESS
This dazzling nebula is called NGC 2174. The photo was taken with NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer—a telescope with a very wide lens that looks at the universe in infrared light. The agency also calls WISE the Van Gogh of space: Its infrared filters reveal a painterly flurry of movement. NGC 2174 is known as the Monkey Head nebula, and scientists aren’t entirely sure how it formed. They think a nearby supernova explosion could have forced this star out of equilibrium, causing it to burp up a bunch of gas and dust.Photograph: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA
This cropped image was taken in 1965 from NASA’s Gemini 7 spacecraft. Inside that compact tin can were astronauts Frank Borman and James Lovell. As they were floating above Earth, they captured clouds along the eastern ridge of the Andes mountains, with the thin blue haze of our atmosphere marking the blurry line between our planet and the rest of the universe.NASA
In 1975, an Apollo spacecraft encountered a Russian Soyuz, making for a rare photo of two spacecraft having a rendezvous. Not long after this photo was taken, the Soyuz docked with the Apollo spacecraft, and the Russian and American astronauts visited each other.JSC
NASA’s WISE spacecraft (aka the Van Gogh of space) snapped this stellar image of a star called Alpha Camelopardalis, seen here at dead center. The red material looks like the stroke of a paintbrush, but it’s actually a swoop of hot gas and dust from the star moving through the frame.Photograph: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA
The Hubble Space Telescope spotted a swarm of cosmic bees! Actually, it’s a so-called irregular galaxy named NGC 4789A. If you look closely, you’ll see little swaths of blue stars—those are massive stars that are relatively young and burn very bright and hot, while the red stars are much older.Photograph: NASA Goddard

Wise up with WIRED’s collection of space photos here.

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