On January 14, NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) began a scan of the full sky using infrared light. Since then, it has sent back more than a quarter-million raw images. Now, NASA has released six sample images, including "a wispy comet, a bursting star-forming cloud, the grand Andromeda galaxy, and a faraway cluster of hundreds of galaxies."
One purpose of the mission
is to try to locate dozens of new comets, "including some that ride along in orbits that take them somewhat close to Earth's path around the sun," NASA said. As well, it is hoped that the telescope will identify asteroids and cool stars known as brown dwarfs.
All told, the telescope is expected to complete a scan-and-a-half of the entire sky before the frozen coolant required to chill its equipment is exhausted this October.
In this image, taken by WISE, a comet called Sliding Spring seems to shoot across the sky. First discovered by Australians in 2007, Sliding Spring is also called C/2007 Q3.
Comet Sliding Spring passed as close as 1.2 astronomical units from Earth on October 7, 2009, according to NASA, after spending billions of years in the so-called Oort Cloud, a spherical collection of comets outside our solar system. Eventually, it was redirected outside the cloud.
For more on Comet Sliding Spring, click here