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article imageHow NASA’s WISE makes space reality happen

By Nancy Houser     Nov 11, 2011 in Science
Located in the northern skies is the constellation Camelopardalis, close to the galactic equator and home to IC 342. A hidden galaxy, it was difficult to see behind the Milky Way until NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, was developed.
NASA’s WISE is one of the two telescopes able to see events in the past as they occur in real-time, revealing “how the first supernova ever recorded occurred and how its shattered remains ultimately spread out to great distances.” Not only does WISE's current image library contain data on the Milky Way Galaxy where the IC 342 is located, but also the local Solar System and the more distant universe.
"Modern astronomers unveiled one secret of a two-millennia-old cosmic mystery only to reveal another," said Bill Danchi, Spitzer and WISE program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Now, with multiple observatories extending our senses in space, we can fully appreciate the remarkable physics behind this star's death throes, yet still be as in awe of the cosmos as the ancient astronomers." (JPL.NASA)
NASA had proposed WISE in order to observe Near Earth Objects that can cause destruction to Earth. It is able to survey the sky at a very high sensitivity, in four wavelengths of an infrared band. The telescope operates at a factor of 1,000 times more sensitive than the IRAS 1983 satellite and 500,000 times better than the 1990 COBE, the Cosmic Background Explorer.
The telescope's detailed images of shows that the curvy spiral shape of the IC 342 galaxy has the highest concentration of gas and dust in its twirling armaments, with the denser gas pockets triggering foundations of new stars. NASA described the spiral galaxy as a 'leggy cosmic creature' that came out of hiding in a new infrared view.
NASA had originally proposed the development of WISE in order to observe Near Earth Objects (NEO) that could cause destruction to Earth. Highly technical, it is able to survey the sky at a very high sensitivity, in four wavelengths of the infrared band. It operates at a factor of 1,000 times more sensitive than the IRAS 1983 satellite and 500,000 times better than the 1990 COBE, the Cosmic Background Explorer.
A Theropod Dinosaur
A Theropod Dinosaur
Before the WISE telescope, scientists were confident that the extinction of dinosaurs on Earth was due to a large asteroid crashing into earth about 65 million years ago.
A 2007 study suggested a huge asteroid by the name of Baptistina had originally been responsible. But NASA reported otherwise on September 19, 2011, stating that it was not the culprit. With the new infrared observations from WISE, Baptistina was ruled out by astronomers.
"As a result of the WISE science team's investigation, the demise of the dinosaurs remains in the cold case files," said Lindley Johnson, program executive for the Near Earth Object (NEO) Observation Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "The original calculations with visible light estimated the size and reflectivity of the Baptistina family members, leading to estimates of their age, but we now know those estimates were off. With infrared light, WISE was able to get a more accurate estimate, which throws the timing of the Baptistina theory into question."
More about NASA, Wise, space reality, Widefield Infrared Survey Explorer
 
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