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March 17, 2012

A half-billion stars and galaxies from NASA’s WISE mission revealed

A new atlas and catalog of the entire infrared sky with more than a half-billion stars, galaxies and other objects captured by NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission was unveiled by NASA

The individual WISE exposures have been combined into an atlas of more than 18,000 images and a catalog listing the infrared properties of more than 560 million objects found in the images. Most of the objects are stars and galaxies, with roughly equal numbers of each; many of them have never been seen before.

WISE observations have already led to many discoveries, including elusive failed stars, or Y-dwarfs. Astronomers had been hunting for Y-dwarfs for more than a decade. Because they have been cooling since their formation, they do not shine in visible light and could not be spotted until WISE mapped the sky with its infrared vision. WISE has also found that there are significantly fewer mid-size near-Earth asteroids than astronomers had previously feared. With this data, now more than 90 percent of the largest of the asteroids have been identified.
Mapping the infrared universe: The entire sky, as seen by WISE
This is a mosaic of the images covering the entire sky as observed by WISE. The sky can be thought of as a sphere that surrounds us in three dimensions. To make a map of the sky, astronomers project it into two dimensions. The projection used in this image, called Aitoff, takes the three-dimensional sky sphere and slices open one hemisphere, and then flattens the whole thing out into an oval shape. In the mosaic, the Milky Way Galaxy runs horizontally across this map. The Milky Way is a disk; our solar system is located in that disk about two-thirds of the way out from the center. Three of the four wavelengths surveyed by WISE were used to create this image.






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