WISE SEES SKY IN NEW LIGHT

via news.discovery.com

original post and big pics here: http://news.discovery.com/space/wise-mission-telescope.html

Peering out across the sky, a new NASA telescope known as WISE (the Wide-field Infrared Survey) is methodically mapping everything radiating in infrared light. Prime catches during its first month of surveys include shots of a newly discovered comet, our neighbor galaxy Andromeda and a relatively nearby cluster of galaxies known as Fornax. NASA released the first batch images Wednesday.

WISE didn’t discover Comet Siding Spring. That honor falls to a group of Australian observers who picked out the comet, also known as C/2007 Q3, in 2007. But WISE definitely has a better view.

From WISE’s perspective, the comet looks red because it is 10 times colder than surrounding stars. (Colder objects give off more light at the longer wavelengths that WISE is designed to detect.)

Comets are snowball-like clumps of ice and dust that hail from solar system’s deep freeze. Every once in a while, one gets bumped into an orbit that brings it closer to the sun, which warms the comet, triggering formation of its distinctive tail.

Comet Sliding Spring passed as close as 111.5 million miles to Earth on Oct. 7, 2009. WISE caught sight of it on Jan. 10, when its tail was stretching out about 10 million miles.

Twelve days later, WISE made its own discovery of comet, P/2010 B2, which was passing through Mars’ orbit at the time.

Farther out in the Milky Way, WISE came upon a dense star factory known as NGC 3603, which is located about 20,000 light-years away from our solar system in Carina, one of the galaxy’s spiral arms. The region is packed with stars, including some much bigger and hotter than our sun, which cast an infrared glow off surrounding dust.

WISE’s wide-angle view — 2,500 times larger than that of the Hubble Space Telescope — provides intriguing clues that massive stars at the heart of the cluster are triggering the birth of new stars in a halo of surrounding warmer material. WISE looked at NGC 3603, which contains some of the more massive stars known, in four wavelengths, with longer wavelengths portrayed in red and green, and shorter ones in blue.

Scientists believe winds and radiation from the stars are evaporating and dispersing the cloud material from which they formed. In turn, the cold dust and gas surrounding the central nebula is warmed.

Massive star clusters like NGC 3603 are an important link to understanding the violent period of massive star formation early in the universe’s history, said Whitney Clavin, a NASA spokeswoman working with the WISE team.

“Because NGC 3603 is so close, it is an excellent lab,” she said.

Our neighbor galaxy Andromeda, also known as M31, is another favorite target for astronomers. But rarely have they had the big picture view offered by WISE.

This mosaic covers an area equivalent to more than 100 full moons, or 5 degrees across the sky. It not only shows Andromeda, which is about 2.5 million light-years from Earth, but two satellite galaxies, M32, located just above Andromeda and left of center, and M110, located below the center of Andromeda’s biggest spiral arms.

This image of Andromeda, in red, highlights the dust that clings to Andromeda’s spiral arms. The dust is radiating heat from hot, newborn stars. Another view focused in on the oldest stars in Andromeda, revealing a warp in the galaxy’s disk — the result of a collision with another galaxy long ago.

It’s not just star clusters that have caught WISE’s eye. The telescope captured this image of a cluster of galaxies 60 million light-years ago in the constellation Fornax. WISE imaged the whole family, which is bound together by gravity.

The Fornax cluster contains dozens of bright galaxies and hundreds of smaller ones. Older stars appear in shorter infrared wavelengths, seen in blue. Dust, reflecting the glow of new generations of stars, shines at longer wavelengths, seen in red.

At the heart of the Fornax family is the large spheroidal galaxy NGC 1399, comprised primarily of old stars. Its standout member is NGC 1365, a giant barred spiral galaxy, seen here in the lower right against a backdrop of blue light from old stars.

During its planned 10-month mission, WISE will scan out to about 10 billion light-years in search of luminous objects just as easily as it maps Earth’s backyard for asteroids and comets.

Image credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA

Text provided by Irene Klotz

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