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NASA’s WISE eyes on the universe

wise heart and soul.jpg
The heart and soul of the universe (credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA)

By Michael Banks in Miami, Florida

It’s a hard task to walk into a session here at the 216th American Astronomical Society meeting in Miami, Florida, and not see amazing images of the universe.

But probably one of the best was issued today by researchers working on NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE).

Wise is an infrared telescope that was launched in December to probe the coolest stars in the universe and the structure of galaxies at four wavelengths between 3 and 25 µm.

Costing $320m, WISE circles the Earth’s poles at an altitude of 525 km scanning the entire sky one-and-a-half times in nine months.

Ned Wright, WISE’s principal investigator, said that the satellite has already taken over a million images and surveyed about three-quarters of the sky. By the beginning of November its objectives should be complete as the solid-hydrogen coolant is exhausted.

The image shows the so-called heart and soul nebula, which lies 6000 light-years away from Earth. WISE allows us to probe this star-making factory in unprecedented detail, letting us see the gas and dust that are just about to form stars.

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