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Emily LakdawallaMarch 7, 2010

WISE's weekly featured image

Every space mission has its own style of public outreach; you never know quite what you're going to get until it launches and is in the full swing of operations. So I'm pleased to point out that the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer mission (WISE) has started an "image of the week" feature on its website. It's a survey mission, systematically capturing photo after photo of the heavens in a pre-ordained geometric pattern, so I can see the mission scientists checking each day's downlink to validate the data quality and periodically saying, "hey, this one is really pretty." Now they can flag those pretty ones and post them for the public's benefit. Here's the first such image. Do click to enlarge; it is HUGE and hugely detailed.

A piece of the Heart Nebula

NASA / JPL-Caltech / WISE team

A piece of the Heart Nebula

A mosaic of images from WISE in the constellation of Cassiopeia. This region contains a large star-forming nebula within the Milky Way Galaxy, called IC 1805 (sometimes called the Heart Nebula), a portion of which is seen at the right of the image. Also visible in this image are two nearby galaxies, Maffei 1 and Maffei 2. In visible light, these galaxies are hidden by dust from IC 1805; they were unknown until 1968, when Paolo Maffei found them using infrared observations. Both galaxies contain billions of stars and are located some 10 million light-years away (well outside our own Milky Way Galaxy). Maffei 1 is the bluish elliptical object in the center of the image. It is a Lenticular-type galaxy, which has a disk-like structure and a central bulge but no spiral structure or appreciable dust content. Maffei 2 (to the upper left of Maffei 1) is a Spiral type galaxy that also has a disk shape, but with a bar-like central bulge and two prominent dusty spiral arms.

The image size is about 1.6 by 4.5 degrees (by comparison, the full Moon is about 0.5 degrees across). Blue light represents 3.4 & 4.6 micron channels, dominated by starlight; green is 12 microns; and red is the 22 micron channel, which is dominated by infrared emission from warm interstellar dust.

Since WISE is mostly an astronomy mission and this is mostly a planetary blog, I probably won't be posting their images too often here -- but I couldn't pass up the very first. Thanks, WISE team, for sharing your brand-new data with the public!

Read more: pretty pictures, WISE, stars and galaxies

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Emily Lakdawalla

Senior Editor and Planetary Evangelist for The Planetary Society
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