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article imageNASA's WISE Mission Releases Stunning Cosmic Images

By Tea Lulic     Feb 23, 2010 in Science
NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) captured magnificent cosmic activities such as the wispy comet, a bursting star-forming cloud, Andromeda galaxy and a faraway cluster of hundreds of galaxies.
Since its launch on January 14th, WISE, NASA's brand new space telescope, has captured and released more than a quarter of a million raw, infrared images. Its mission is to scan the entire sky with infrared light, picking up millions of objects and producing the same amount of images. The idea behind the project is to uncover the so far mysteries of space, including the coolest stars, the universe's most luminous galaxies and some of the darkest near-Earth asteroids and comets.
Comet Siding Spring as captured via WISE telescope
Comet Siding Spring as captured via WISE telescope
"WISE has worked superbly. These first images are proving the spacecraft's secondary mission of helping to track asteroids, comets and other stellar objects will be just as critically important as its primary mission of surveying the entire sky in infrared,"said Ed Weiler, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
Our neighbour Andromeda. Blue highlights mature stars  while yellow and red highlights dust heated b...
Our neighbour Andromeda. Blue highlights mature stars, while yellow and red highlights dust heated by newborn, massive stars.
There are four newly developed and processed images from WISE. The first image captures a comet called Siding Spring. It is first discovered in 2007 by observers in Australia. This snow-ball like mass consisting of ice and dust spent billions of years orbiting the Oort Cloud - a spherical cloud of comets that surrounds our solar system. At some unknown point, it got knocked out of its own path and closer to the Sun, passing as close as 1.2 astronomical units from the Earth on October 7, 2009 (Note: astronomical unit is the distance between the Earth and the Sun). As the comet is approaching the Sun, it sheds a lot of dust particles, which in turn glow in infrared light visible to WISE (red), and its tail which stretches approximately 10 million miles looks like a streak of red paint.
In this particular image, longer wavelengths of infrared light are red and shorter wavelengths are blue. It appears red because it is approximately 10 times colder than the surrounding stars. Colder stars give off longer wavelengths.
Andromeda galaxy - older stellar population captured in blue. A pronounced warp in the disk of the g...
Andromeda galaxy - older stellar population captured in blue. A pronounced warp in the disk of the galaxy on the upper left hand side of the galaxy is the result of the collision with another galaxy.
During its survey of the cosmos, WISE is expected to find and capture dozens of comets, including those which ride along the orbits close to the Earth's path around the Sun. The data being gathered about these comets and their inside structure is hoping to shed some light about the beginning of the solar system.
The second image incorporates a bright and choppy star-forming region also known as NGC 3603. It is located approximately 20,000 light years away in the Carina spiral arm of the Milky Way Galaxy. This region is giving birth to many new stars, which are turning out to be monstrously massive and way hotter than the sun. In this case, WISE data collecting is important in the discovery of how the stars are being born as well as provide an important link in violent episodes of star formations occurring in far away galaxies.
Andromeda Galaxy - dust on spiral arms.
Andromeda Galaxy - dust on spiral arms.
The third image comes from the Andromeda spiral galaxy, located just a bit farther out than the Milky Way Galaxy. However, Andromeda is a bit bigger than the Milky Way and approximately 2.5 million light years away. WISE's image covers a large surface area - larger than 100 moons lined up one after another - and even shows other smaller galaxies around Andromeda.
The fourth image consists of hundreds of galaxies bound together to make one big family. The family is called the Fornax cluster and its galaxies are located approximately 60 million light-years away!
Fornax Galaxy Cluster - the center of this cluster is dominated by the NGC 1399 galaxy  made up excl...
Fornax Galaxy Cluster - the center of this cluster is dominated by the NGC 1399 galaxy, made up exclusively of old stars and thus it appears blue. However, the most spectacular member of this cluster is the NGC 1365 Galaxy, located on the lower right of this image. The dusty spiral arms of this galaxy clearly stand out. They consist of newly formed stars.
"All these pictures tell a story about our dusty origins and destiny. WISE sees dusty comets and rocky asteroids tracing the formation and evolution of our solar system. We can map thousands of forming and dying solar systems across our entire galaxy. We can see patterns of star formation across other galaxies, and waves of star-bursting galaxies in clusters millions of light years away," said Peter Eisenhardt, the WISE project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
The mission is expected to scan the sky one-and-a-half times by October.
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