WISE peers deep into space (photos)

The Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer mission, which kicked off in 2009, has sent back some impressive photos of faraway places.

Don Reisinger
1 of 15 NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA

The wonders of WISE

When the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) launched in December 2009, it had one goal: to more proficiently map the sky than the infrared telescopes that came before it.

If the latest photos released from WISE are any indication, it succeeded in that charge.

Earlier this month, NASA released a host of images taken by WISE. The images in the first release encompass only 57 percent of all the pictures the telescope captured. NASA plans to launch WISE's complete survey in the spring of 2012.

"We are excited that the preliminary data contain millions of newfound objects," Fengchuan Liu, the project manager for WISE at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement. "But the mission is not yet over--the real treasure is the final catalog available a year from now, which will have twice as many sources, covering the entire sky and reaching even deeper into the universe than today's release."

WISE captured images at four infrared wavelenghts of light, NASA said. It was able to take more than 2.7 million images featuring "millions of galaxies, stars, [and] asteroids" before it was decommissioned by the government agency in February.

NASA hopes that by releasing the images, astronomers around the globe will be able to find "hidden oddities" and areas where follow-up studies can be done to glean more information about space.

Left image: The Rho Ophiunchi cloud complex is in full view. The bright white in the middle of the image takes on that look owing to the heat emitted from nearby stars, NASA says.

2 of 15 NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA

SH 2-235 Nebula

The SH 2-235 Nebula is captured by WISE in the Perseus spiral arm of the Milky Way. The star formation complex is more than 100 million light years across, according to NASA.
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The Zeta Ophiuchi

The beautiful Zeta Ophiuchi blue star is blazing a path through dust and gas.
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Orion's Head

You've undoubtedly heard of Orion's Belt, but right now you're looking at his head. According to NASA, WISE helped astronomers see "a giant nebula" around the star Lambda Orionis.
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Omega Centauri

NASA's WISE telescope was able to get a detailed glimpse into Omega Centauri, a cluster of stars found in the Centaurus constellation.
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Nebula and stars galore

A view of the BFS 29 nebula around the CE-Camelopardalis star. According to NASA, "most of the gas and dust" aren't viewable in visible light.
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The traveling asteroid

Though it might be hard to make out, this image shows an asteroid traveling through space. The Messier 74 galaxy is seen behind it.
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The big red star

A hot, bright star was captured by WISE as gas and dust surrounded it.
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DG 129 nebula

The DG 129 nebula was caught by WISE as it was photographing space. According to NASA, the nebula "reflects light from nearby, bright stars."
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Spot the green dot

Look closely enough and you'll see a faint green dot in the middle of this image. According to NASA, it's "a dim star belonging to a class called brown dwarf."
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The Lagoon Nebula

Look deeply into the Lagoon Nebula (the large, colorful cloud). It's surrounded by stars and--you guessed it--more dust and gas.
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Vela Molecular Cloud Ridge

The Vela Molecular Cloud Ridge is home to a countless number of stars. It's believed that the groups of red dots in this image are actually young stars that aren't able to be seen with visible light.
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The Flame Nebula

Talk about beauty. In this image, you find the Flame, Horsehead, and NGC 2023 nebulae, NASA says. They're all part of the Orion Molecular Cloud.
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Another spirally galaxy

At about 30 million light-years away, the NGC 6744 galaxy has a spiral look that mimics the Milky Way.
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Messier 33

The Messier 33 galaxy (also known as the Triangulum Galaxy), is one of the closest to us, at only 3 million light-years away. NASA believes it could be the subject of serious study in the coming years.

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