Posts Tagged ‘Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer’

Soul of the Cosmos

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/WISE Team

Massive star-making regions make up the heart and soul of the cosmos in this image from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer.

Explore the giant bubbles blown by new stars in this image. What shapes and stories does your imagination create? Leave a message below.

The huge bubbles dominate both nebula. Hot, new stars blast the surrounding gas and dust clouds with ultraviolet radiation and solar winds. These winds carve out hollows in the cloud and drive gas and dust clouds together. When enough of this star-making stuff collects in one spot, gravity pulls it together and it could light up and become a star. With infrared sensors, WISE can peer deep into the cold star clouds and show scientists warm areas that might be the formation of new stars. These glowing spots of light in the dust are just a few million years old.

Toward the bottom of the image you’ll notice a couple of blue smudges of light. These are Maffei 1 and 2. These galaxies are only about 10 million light-years from Earth and lie within the general neighborhood of our Milky Way Galaxy. Maffei 1 is the bluish elliptical galaxy to the right. Maffei 2, to the left, is a spiral galaxy similar to the Milky Way.

The Heart Nebula, to the right, was named because it resembled a human heart. The nebula is also known as IC 1805. The Soul Nebula, the large bubble to the left, is also known as the Embryo Nebula, IC 1848 and W5. Both nebula span nearly 680 light-years across. Both nebulae are found about 6,000 light-years from Earth toward the constellation Casseopeia, the Queen. They are part of the Perseus Spiral Arm in our Milky Way Galaxy just a bit farther out from the center of the galaxy than the spiral arm that contains our solar system.

Rich Tapestries

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/WISE Team

Rich colors spill across a tapestry of dust and gas in this image of the Rho Ophiuchi star cloud from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE.

Explore the arcs, folds and wrinkles in an image that resembles a painting. Your imagination should come up with lots of shapes and stories in this image. Tell us what you see in the image by leaving a note below.

The star cloud is named after a bright star in the region of the constellations Ophiuchus and Sagittarius. The nebula is one of the closest star-making regions to Earth allowing astronomers a clear look at the processes surrounding star birth. The pink stars near the center of the image are young stellar objects. In visible light, these stars are hidden from view. They are so young that they are still wrapped tightly in blankets of dust.

Explore a bit deeper in the image and you’ll find some of the oldest stars in our galaxy. M80, a distant globular cluster, is found on the far right of the image near the top. Another globular cluster known as NGC 6144 is found close to the bottom center of the image. They appear as tightly compacted groups of blue stars. Born soon after the universe formed, they are thought to be about 13 billion years old.

The bright white region in the center of the image glows with heating from nearby stars. Astronomers call this an emission nebula. Young, bright stars send out a blistering stream of ultraviolet radiation that excites the gas atoms in the nebula and causes them to glow like a neon sign. Most of the gas and dust in this image glows from that process including the blue arc of light just above the reddish nebula. The dust in the red region reflects light from the light of Sigma Scorpii. Astronomers call this type of nebula a reflection nebula. Throughout the image float cold, dark and dense clouds of dust. WISE sees the universe in infrared, seeing warm sources of light even in the darkest clouds. The orbiting telescope can usually penetrate these dark clouds but these are especially opaque to the satellite’s sensors meaning they are very cold. Astronomers call this type of interstellar cloud absorption nebulae.

The stunning array of color in this image represent different wavelengths of infrared light. Blue, cyan and the blue-green hues represent hot sources of light such as stars. The green and red color comes mostly from dust.

Nebular Swirl

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/WISE Team

A swirl of nebula resembles an arm and a hand in this image of DG 129 from NASA‘s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE.

Dive into this colorful reflection nebula. Gaze at the star cloud with your imagination. What other patterns or stories do you see? Leave a note below.

In visible light, DG 129 is not remarkable. But with WISE’s infrared eyes, the reflection nebula’s full glory is revealed. Reflection nebula reflect faint starlight from nearby stars. In comparison, emission nebula, such as the Great Nebula in Orion, shine with their own light as ultraviolet radiation from nearby stars excites hydrogen atoms, causing them to glow.

Just to the right of the “thumb” in the hand, look for Pi Scorpii. The bright star, wrapped in the greenish haze, is one of the stars that marks the claws of Scorpio, the Scorpion. This triple-star system lies about 500 light-years from Earth about the same distance away as DG 129.

The WISE orbiting telescope surveyed the sky from December 2010 until it was turned off in February 2011. To view the universe in infrared wavelengths, the satellite’s sensors had to be kept very cold. Coolant needed to keep it cool ran out and the satellite stopped sending useful data.

Galactic Heart

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/WISE Team

A heart glows in this image from NASA’s WISE telescope.

Explore this wide view of IC 1805, also called the Heart Nebula. What shapes and patterns do you see in this star cloud? Leave a message below.

IC 1805 is a vast, star-making nebula within our Milky Way Galaxy. Look toward the left of the nebula and you can make out the glow of a couple of galaxies. In visible light, Maffei 1 and 2 are hidden by the thick dust of IC 1805. Both galaxies were discovered by astronomer Paolo Maffei in 1968 using infrared observations. The glaring heat of billions of stars is easily seen through the cold interstellar dust by infrared observatories, such as the orbiting WISE telescope. Maffei 1 is the bluish elliptical object in the center. It is a lenticular galaxy, with a halo of stars surrounding a central bulge. Maffei 2 lies just above and left of Maffei 1. This galaxy is a spiral galaxy similar to our Milky Way Galaxy.

Both Maffei 1 and 2 lie within the general neighborhood of our Milky Way Galaxy; about 10 million light-years away. IC 1805 lies just 6,000 light-years from Earth toward the constellation Cassiopeia, the Queen of King Cepheus.

The WISE satellite, short for Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, took millions of images in its 13-month mission. WISE studied asteroids, cool and dim stars and luminous galaxies. Astronomers use different colors in the image to show varying temperatures.

Bird of Gas

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/WISE Team

A bird’s head glows in a cloud gas and dust in this image from NASA‘s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE.

Zoom into this infrared image. Leave a comment below telling us what stories and pictures you see.

The blue-colored star in the center of the image is Zeta Ophiuchi. This very massive star is plowing through a quiet interstellar cloud of gas and dust. The arc of gold and red above the star is a stellar example of a bow-shock. As the star moves through space, strong winds from this hot star push the gas and dust out of the way, just as a boat creates a bow wave along the front. In normal light, Zeta Ophiuchi is a dim, reddish star and the glowing arc of gas is not visible. Explore the interstellar gas and dust that surrounds Zeta Ophiuchi. To the sides of the image and in the background, calm clouds of dust appear green and wispy. Near Zeta Ophiuchi, these clouds look quite different. The cloud in all directions around the star is brighter and redder, because the extreme amounts of ultraviolet radiation emitted by the star are heating the cloud, causing it to glow more brightly in the infrared than usual.

Astronomers believe that this stellar wanderer was once part of a binary star system with an even more massive star that exploded as a supernova. Supernovae are cataclysmic explosions of very massive stars, more than 20 times that of our Sun. After its companion flung most of its mass into deep space and briefly blazed brighter than an the entire galaxy, Zeta Ophiuchi was suddenly freed from its massive partner’s pull and zipped away at more than 54,000 miles per hour (24 kilometers per second). Zeta Ophiuchi is about 20 times more massive than our Sun and 65,000 times more luminous. This extreme size and power comes at a price however. While our Sun will last for another four billion years or so before transforming into a red giant and eventually a white dwarf, Zeta Ophiuchi will probably follow its partner’s lead and become a supernova itself in just a few million years.

Zeta Ophiuchi lies relatively close to Earth about 428 light-years away toward the sprawling constellation Ophiuchus, the Serpent Bearer. If the star were not surrounded by the dense nebula, it would be the brightest star in the sky.


The ancient peoples saw pictures in the sky. From those patterns in the heavens, ancient storytellers created legends about heroes, maidens, dragons, bears, centaurs, dogs and mythical creatures...
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