NASA Unveils Atlas, Catalog of Entire Infrared Sky

Posted March 19th, 2012 at 10:30 pm (UTC+0)
1 comment

This is a mosaic of the images covering the entire sky as observed by the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), part of its All-Sky Data Release. (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA)

This is a mosaic of the images covering the entire sky as observed by the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), part of its All-Sky Data Release. (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA)

A new atlas and catalog of the entire infrared sky were unveiled recently by NASA.  The atlas and catalog – which show more than a half-billion stars, galaxies and other objects – were composed from data captured by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission.

With the entire release of the sky catalog, the WISE mission has now met its fundamental objective, according to NASA.

The new atlas is made up with more than 18,000 images taken by the WISE mission.

An accompanying catalog lists the infrared properties of more than 560 individual objects, which can be found in the images.  Most of the objects listed are stars and galaxies, many of which have never been seen before.

Artist's concept of the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer. (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Artist's concept of the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

“Today, WISE delivers the fruit of 14 years of effort to the astronomical community,” said Edward Wright, WISE principal investigator at UCLA.

The WISE spacecraft launched Dec. 14, 2009.  In 2010, it mapped the entire sky using equipment that was much more sensitive than that used on previous missions.

Over the course of its mission, WISE  collected more than 2.7 million images of everything from asteroids to distant galaxies.

The mission team has also been processing more than 15 terabytes of data transmitted back to Earth by the WISE spacecraft.

About a year ago, in a preliminary release, NASA offered its first bundle of WISE data to astronomers.

The observations made so far by WISE have led to a number of remarkable finds, including the discovery of a class of stars with temperatures as cool as the human body.

Astronomers had been on the lookout for these elusive stars for more than a decade.  Called Y-dwarfs, the stars have been cooling ever since they first formed. Unlike other, much hotter stars, they don’t shine in visible light and couldn’t be seen until the WISE mission used its infrared vision to map the sky.

This artist's concept illustrates the first known Earth Trojan asteroid, discovered by NEOWISE, the asteroid-hunting portion of NASA's WISE mission. The asteroid is shown in gray and its extreme orbit is shown in green. Earth's orbit around the sun is indicated by blue dots. (Image: Paul Wiegert, University of Western Ontario, Canada)

Artist's conception of the first-known Earth Trojan asteroid, discovered by NASA's WISE mission. The asteroid is gray and its extreme orbit is shown in green. Earth's orbit around the sun is indicated by blue dots. (Image: Paul Wiegert, University of Western Ontario, Canada)

WISE made some other surprise discoveries, including what scientists call the first known Trojan asteroid, which shares the same orbit around the sun as the Earth.

A Trojan object, such as this asteroid, assumes the same orbital path of a major space object, such as a planet or a large moon.

But since they sit at points within the orbital path that are approximately 60° ahead of or behind the planet or large moon, there’s no danger of collision.

Given recent concern about asteroids possibly endangering our planet, WISE also  polled near-Earth asteroids, finding many fewer mid-sized objects than previously thought, and that NASA has found more than 90 percent of the largest near-Earth asteroids.

At least 100 papers, based on the results from the WISE survey, already have been published, according to NASA.  Now that scientists have access to data from the whole sky, even more discoveries are expected.

One Response to “NASA Unveils Atlas, Catalog of Entire Infrared Sky”

  1. Mark Skinner says:

    I stand in total awe of these current developments pulled off agencies like NASA, ESA, JPL, and any of the other groups looking into space and time. More power to you….like schoolteachers, honest scientists, carers, volunteers …those people who are truly injecting the world with some real good, they are the REAL “heroes”.
    THIS is just mind snapping… That we are possibly looking back into time as we view images like these and other magnificent “moments” of space….galaxies thousands of light years away, all around us…WOW ! OMG !!

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