WISE eyes on the sky

WISE image of the Pleiades star cluster

This image shows the famous Pleiades cluster of stars as seen through the eyes of WISE, or NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer. The mosaic contains a few hundred image frames—just a fraction of the more than one million WISE has captured so far as it completes its first survey of the entire sky in infrared light.

  • Infrared mapping telescope completes all-sky survey
  • Over 1 million images in total, with more to come
  • Spotted 100,000+ asteroids, and discovers a dozen comets

NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, completed its first survey of the entire sky on July 17. The mission has generated more than 1 million images so far, of everything from asteroids to distant galaxies.

“Like a globe-trotting shutterbug, WISE has completed a world tour with 1.3 million slides covering the whole sky,” said Edward Wright, the principal investigator of the mission at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Some of the images have been processed and stitched together into a new picture just released. It shows the Pleiades cluster of stars, also known as the Seven Sisters, resting in a tangled bed of wispy dust.

The pictured region covers seven square degrees, or an area equivalent to 35 full Moons, highlighting the telescope’s ability to take wide shots of vast regions of space.

WISE all-sky infrared map

WISE all-sky map. If you eyes could see infrared instead of normal visible light, this is what the sky would look like.

The new picture was taken in February. It combines infrared light from WISE’s four detectors in a range of wavelengths, and highlights the region’s expansive dust cloud, through which the Seven Sisters and other stars in the cluster are passing. Infrared light also reveals the smaller and cooler stars of the family.

Mapping job almost finished

The mission scanned strips of the sky as it orbited around the Earth’s poles since its launch last December. WISE always stays over the Earth’s day-night line. As the Earth moves around the Sun, new slices of sky come into the telescope’s field of view.

It has taken six months, or the amount of time for Earth to travel halfway around the sun, for the mission to complete one full scan of the entire sky.

For the next three months, the mission will map half of the sky again. This will enhance the telescope’s data, revealing more hidden asteroids, stars and galaxies. The mapping will give astronomers a look at what’s changed in the sky.

The mission will end when the instrument’s block of solid hydrogen coolant, needed to chill its infrared detectors, runs out.

Artist's impression of WISE

Artist's impression of WISE, NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer.

“The eyes of WISE have not blinked since launch,” said William Irace, the mission’s project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “Both our telescope and spacecraft have performed flawlessly and have imaged every corner of our universe, just as we planned.”

Over 100,000 asteroids spotted

So far, WISE has spotted more than 100,000 asteroids, both known and previously unseen. Most of these space rocks are in the main belt between Mars and Jupiter.

However, some are “near-Earth objects”, asteroids and comets with orbits that pass relatively close to Earth. WISE has discovered more than 90 of these new near-Earth objects.

The infrared telescope is also good at spotting comets that orbit far from Earth and has discovered more than a dozen of these so far.

WISE’s infrared vision also gives it a unique ability to pick up the glow of cool stars, called brown dwarfs, in addition to distant galaxies bursting with light and energy. These galaxies are called ultra-luminous infrared galaxies. WISE can see the brightest of them.

Adapted from information issued by NASA / JPL-Caltech / UCLA .

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