WISE Eye Spies First Glimpse of the Starry Sky

Jan 06, 2010
This infrared snapshot of a region in the constellation Carina near the Milky Way was taken shortly after NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) ejected its cover. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA

(PhysOrg.com) -- NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, has captured its first look at the starry sky that it will soon begin surveying in infrared light.

Launched on Dec. 14, WISE will scan the entire sky for millions of hidden objects, including asteroids, "failed" stars and powerful . WISE data will serve as navigation charts for other missions, such as NASA's Hubble and Spitzer Space Telescopes, pointing them to the most interesting targets the mission finds.

A new WISE infrared image was taken shortly after the space telescope's cover was removed, exposing the instrument's detectors to starlight for the first time. The picture shows about 3,000 stars in the Carina constellation and can be viewed online at www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/WISE/multimedia/wise20100106.html .

The image covers a patch of sky about three times larger than the , and was presented today at the 215th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington. The patch was selected because it does not contain any unusually bright objects, which could damage instrument detectors if observed for too long. The picture was taken while the spacecraft was staring at a fixed patch of sky and is being used to calibrate the spacecraft's pointing system.

When the WISE survey begins, the spacecraft will scan the sky continuously as it circles the globe, while an internal scan mirror counteracts its motion. This allows WISE to take "freeze-frame" snapshots every 11 seconds, resulting in millions of images of the entire sky.

"Right now, we are busy matching the rate of the scan mirror to the rate of the spacecraft, so we will capture sharp pictures as our telescope sweeps across the sky," said William Irace, the mission's project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

To sense the infrared glow of and galaxies, the WISE spacecraft cannot give off any detectable of its own. This is accomplished by chilling the telescope and detectors to ultra-cold temperatures. The coldest of WISE's detectors will operate at less than 8 Kelvin, or minus 445 degrees Fahrenheit.

The first sky survey will be complete in six months, followed by a second scan of one-half of the sky lasting three months. The mission ends when the frozen hydrogen that keeps the instrument cold evaporates away, an event expected to occur in October 2010.

Preliminary survey images are expected to be released six months later, in April 2011, with the final atlas and catalog coming 11 months later, in March 2012. Selected images will be released to the public beginning in February 2010.

Explore further: Astronomers discover first self-lensing binary star system

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

NASA's WISE Space Telescope Jettisons Its Cover

Dec 30, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Engineers and scientists say the maneuver went off without a hitch, and everything is working properly. The mission's "first-light" images of the sky will be released to the public in about ...

WISE satellite blasts off on space-map mission

Dec 14, 2009

NASA launched Monday a new breed of satellite called WISE on a mission to orbit Earth and map the skies to find elusive cosmic objects, including potentially dangerous asteroids.

NASA to launch sky-mapping spacecraft

Dec 06, 2009

(AP) -- NASA's latest space telescope will scan the sky in search of never-before-seen asteroids, comets, stars and galaxies, with one of its main tasks to catalog objects posing a danger to Earth. The sky-mapping ...

NASA OKs construction of satellite

Oct 25, 2006

NASA has approved construction of a satellite that will scan the entire sky in infrared light to detect cool stars and bright galaxies.

Recommended for you

Exoplanets soon to gleam in the eye of NESSI

2 hours ago

(Phys.org) —The New Mexico Exoplanet Spectroscopic Survey Instrument (NESSI) will soon get its first "taste" of exoplanets, helping astronomers decipher their chemical composition. Exoplanets are planets ...

A sharp eye on Southern binary stars

23 hours ago

Unlike our sun, with its retinue of orbiting planets, many stars in the sky orbit around a second star. These binary stars, with orbital periods ranging from days to centuries, have long been the primary ...

Hubble image: A cross-section of the universe

23 hours ago

An image of a galaxy cluster taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope gives a remarkable cross-section of the Universe, showing objects at different distances and stages in cosmic history. They range ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Ceres and Vesta Converge in Virgo

Don't let them pass you by. Right now and continuing through July, the biggest and brightest asteroids will be running on nearly parallel tracks in the constellation Virgo and so close together they'll easily ...

LADEE mission ends with planned lunar impact

(Phys.org) —Ground controllers at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., have confirmed that NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft impacted the surface ...

Could 'Jedi Putter' be the force golfers need?

Putting is arguably the most important skill in golf; in fact, it's been described as a game within a game. Now a team of Rice engineering students has devised a training putter that offers golfers audio, ...