Telescope built at USU shows never-before-seen views of space

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LOGAN -- Spectacular new images of the universe are coming in, thanks to a new telescope designed and built in Utah.

Scientists have been stunned and delighted for two months, but they're only now beginning to share the pictures with the public.

It's a whole new way of looking at the universe: High-resolution infrared images of the entire sky from W.I.S.E., the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer that was designed, built and now celebrated at Utah State University.

What is... WISE?
WISE, which stands for Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, will scan the entire sky in infrared light, picking up the glow of hundreds of millions of objects and producing millions of images. The mission will uncover objects never seen before, including the coolest stars, the universe's most luminous galaxies and some of the darkest near-Earth asteroids and comets. Its vast catalogs will help answer fundamental questions about the origins of planets, stars and galaxies, and provide a feast of data for astronomers to munch on for decades to come. -NASA

Dr. Doug Lemon, executive vice president of the Utah State University Research Foundation, said, "I've been an astronomy buff since I was a small boy. When I saw those first images come out, I was just astounded."

The first images started coming in around Christmas, right after the W.I.S.E. satellite was launched into orbit.

That's when NASA scientists started sending ecstatic emails to the W.I.S.E. creators at Utah State University's Space Dynamics Laboratory.

'Astounding!' ‘Magnificent!' 'Never been seen before!' the e-mails read. "Scientists weren't going home at night because they didn't want to be away to see the next download of data," Dr. Lemon said.

Dr. Mark Larsen, chief engineer of the W.I.S.E. payload, said, "After seven years of hard work, we were all just really happy to see some really good images that were in focus and everything worked."

The new instrument is assigned to image the entire sky with incredibly sensitive infrared sensors.

Dr. Lemon said, "We can see objects that were too faint to be seen before, and we can see them with much higher resolution."

The audience favorite so far: the Andromeda Galaxy, in three different wave-lengths of light.

W.I.S.E. is imaging galaxies so far away it took 10 billion years for their light to reach earth. And it has shots of comets right in our own neighborhood.

Dr. Larsen said, "The instrument has found two comets now, and they also have found 500 or so asteroids that have never been seen before."

W.I.S.E. will be in business a total of only 6 months, but in that period it will collect millions of images that will keep scientists busy for decades to come.

"It's both breathtaking and revolutionary in its scope," Dr. Larsen said. "It's a big moment for science and astrophysics, absolutely."

Eventually, NASA will release all the images produced by W.I.S.E., millions of them. So far they've only released six.

It's just a glimpse, a few crumbs from a feast that scientists are just beginning to devour.



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John Hollenhorst


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