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In Photos: NASA's Extensive Sky Survey

July 17, 2010 /PN/ NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, completes its first survey of the entire sky today. The mission has generated more than one million images so far, of everything from asteroids to distant galaxies.

Some of these images have been processed and stitched together into a new picture being released yesterday. 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.

Here is the new image, followed by some of the other previously released WISE images:


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Seven Sisters Get WISE

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.

The Pleiades are what astronomers call an open cluster of stars, meaning the stars are loosely bound to each other and will eventually, after a few hundred million years, go their separate ways. The cluster is prominent in the sky during winter months in the constellation Taurus, when viewed from the Northern Hemisphere. Often called the Seven Sisters from Greek tradition, this cluster of stars has been named by cultures the world over: Parveen in Persian; Tianquiztli in the Aztec tradition, and Subaru in Japan. The Pleiades is even the logo of the automotive company that bears its Japanese name.

In this infrared view of the Pleiades from WISE, the cluster is seen surrounded by an immense cloud of dust. When this cloud was first observed, it was thought to be leftover material from the formation of the cluster. However, studies have found the cluster to be about 100 million years old -- any dust left over from its formation would have long dissipated by this time, from radiation and winds from the most massive stars. The cluster is therefore probably just passing through the cloud seen here, heating it up and making it glow.

At a distance of about 436 light-years from Earth, the Pleiades is one of the closest star clusters and plays an important role in determining distances to astronomical bodies further away. This picture from WISE covers an area of 3.05 by 2.33 degrees, which is the roughly the same area on the sky that a grid of six full moons by 4.7 full moons would occupy. Most of the stars in the cluster fall within the 20-light-year-wide region shown here.

All four infrared detectors aboard WISE were used to make this mosaic. Color is representational: blue and cyan represent infrared light at wavelengths of 3.4 and 4.6 microns, which is dominated by light from stars. Green and red represent light at 12 and 22 microns, which is mostly light from warm dust.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA


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Tycho's Supernova Remnant

This image from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) takes in several interesting objects in the constellation Cassiopeia, none of which are easily seen in visible light.

The red circle visible in the upper left part of the image is SN 1572, often called "Tycho's Supernova." This remnant of a star explosion is named after the astronomer Tycho Brahe, although he was not the only person to observe and record the supernova. When the supernova first appeared in November 1572, it was as bright as Venus and could be seen in the daytime. Over the next two years, the supernova dimmed until it could no longer be seen with the naked eye. It wasn't until the 1950s that the remnants of the supernova could be seen again with the help of telescopes.

When the star exploded, it sent out a blast wave into the surrounding material, scooping up interstellar dust and gas as it went, like a snow plow. An expanding shock wave traveled into the surroundings and a reverse shock was driven back in toward the remnants of the star. Previous observations by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope indicate that the nature of the light that WISE sees from the supernova remnant is emission from dust heated by the shock wave.

In the center of the image is a star-forming nebula of dust and gas, called S175. This cloud of material is about 3,500 light-years away and 35 light-years across. It is being heated by radiation from young, hot stars within it, and the dust within the cloud radiates infrared light.

On the left edge of the image, between the Tycho supernova remnant and the very bright star, is an open cluster of stars, King 1, first catalogued by Ivan King, an astronomer at UC Berkeley, Calif. This cluster is about 6,000 light-years away, 4 light-years across and is about 2 billion years old.

Also of interest in the lower right of the image is a cluster of infrared-emitting objects. Almost all of these sources have no counterparts in visible-light images, and only some have been catalogued by previous infrared surveys. There are indications that they may be young stellar objects associated with a dense nebula in the area. Young stellar objects (YSOs) are stars in their earliest stages of life. YSOs are surrounded by an envelope of dust, which would explain the very red color of the sources in this image.

All four infrared detectors aboard WISE were used to make this mosaic. The image spans an area of 1.6 x 1.6 degrees on the sky or about 3 times as wide and high as the full moon. Color is representational: blue and cyan represent infrared light at wavelengths of 3.4 and 4.6 microns, which is dominated by light from stars. Green and red represent light at 12 and 22 microns, which is mostly light from warm dust.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA


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Southern Pinwheel

This image from the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, shows the nearby galaxy Messier 83, or M83 for short. This is a spiral galaxy approximately 15 million light-years away in the constellation Hydra. Sometimes referred to as the southern Pinwheel galaxy, M83 has a similar appearance to M101, the Pinwheel galaxy, but it is located in the southern sky. At about 55,500 light-years across, M83 is a bit more than half the size of our Milky Way galaxy, with a similar overall structure.

Like the Milky Way, most of M83's stars, dust and gas lie in a thin disk decorated with grand spiral arms. We see the disk of M83 nearly face-on (whereas we see the disk of the Milky Way edge-on since we are inside it). The spiral arms are places where the disk is a bit denser, with more stars and gas and higher rates of star formation. Where there is star formation, there are more very bright, short-lived stars, and plenty of dust (green and red in this infrared image). M83 is referred to as a barred spiral galaxy, because its central bulge of stars and dust has a component that is roughly spherical, and a component that is shaped like a bar.

This image was made from observations by all four infrared detectors aboard WISE. Blue and cyan represent infrared light at wavelengths of 3.4 and 4.6 microns, which is primarily light from stars. Green and red represent light at 12 and 22 microns, which is primarily emission from warm dust.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA


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WISE Catches Comet 65-P Gunn

This image from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) features comet 65/P Gunn. Comets are balls of dust and ice left over from the formation of the solar system. As a comet approaches the sun, it is heated and releases gas and dust from its surface, which are blown back by the solar wind into a long, spectacular tail. Comet 65/P Gunn's tail is seen here in red trailing off to the right of the comet's nucleus (near the center of the image).

Comet 65/P Gunn was discovered by James Gunn, a professor at Princeton University, N.J., in 1970. Gunn is the project scientist for the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, another important survey of the sky done in visible light. WISE observed the comet on April 24, 2010, in the constellation Capricornus (just one month after the comet's closest approach to the sun). This is a single-frame observation, covering an area of 1.5 by 1.5 full moons (0.76 by 0.76 degrees).

Comet 65/P Gunn is what is called a short-period comet. It orbits the sun inside the main asteroid belt between the orbits of the planets Mars and Jupiter. The orbit of 65/P Gunn is relatively round compared to many comets, and it takes 6.79 years to complete one trip around the sun. At the time that this image was taken, the comet was at a distance from Earth of 392 million kilometers (243 million miles). For reference, the average distance between the Sun and Earth is 150 million kilometers (93 million miles). The comet's speed relative the sun, when this picture was snapped, was about a whopping 7,700 kilometers per hour (4,800 miles per hour).

Just ahead of the comet is an interesting fuzzy red feature that makes it look something like a swordfish, or narwhal. This "sword," or dust trail, is made of dust particles that have previously been shed by 65/P Gunn as it orbits the sun. The dust is warmed by sunlight and glows in infrared light. Trails appear both ahead and behind the comet's nucleus and have a narrow, contrail-like appearance. They represent the first stages in the evolution of meteoroid streams. Over time, the material in the debris trail can drift away from the comet's orbit and become clouds of debris that will be seen as meteor showers if Earth passes through them.

Also visible in this image are several asteroids -- chunks of rock and metal leftover from the formation of the solar system -- all of which orbit the sun in the main asteroid belt. Asteroids are much cooler than stars and appear red in this image. The most prominent asteroids in the image are: 2661 Bydzovsky; 89825; 76826; E4813; and 2007 VG119.

WISE sees invisible infrared light, and all four infrared detectors aboard WISE were used to make this image. The colors are representational. In this image, 3.4-micron light is colored blue; 4.6-micron light is green; 12-micron light is orange; and 22-micron light is red. Bluer objects in this image are warmer in temperature, such as stars, while cooler objects, such as asteroids and the comet, are redder in appearance.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA


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The Dirt on Andromeda

This image from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, highlights the dust that speckles the Andromeda galaxy's spiral arms. It shows light seen by the longest-wavelength infrared detectors on WISE (12-micron light has been color coded orange, and 22-micron light, red).

The hot dust, which is being heated by newborn stars, traces the spidery arms all the way to the center of the galaxy. Telltale signs of young stars can also be seen in the centers of Andromeda's smaller companion galaxies, M32 and M110.

Andromeda, also called M31, is 2.5 million light-years away, and is the nearest large neighbor to our Milky Way galaxy.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA


1 comments:

  1. augustine says

    impressive images


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