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NASA Unveils Solar System Atlas

Infrared WISE image showing the light echoes from the Cassiopeia A supernova remnant. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/WISE Team

NASA has released a new atlas of more than 560 million stars, galaxies and asteroids, many never seen before.

The more than 18,000 images were taken by the Wide-field Survey Explorer (WISE), NASA’s infrared space telescope.

With WISE, scientists discovered Y Dwarf stars, the dimmest stars of the brown dwarf family. By solar standards, they’re exceptionally cold: One discovered in 2011 had a temperature of only 80 degrees Fahrenheit. By comparison, our sun has a scalding surface temperature of about 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

Scientists were also able to find the first-ever asteroid with the same orbit as Earth. Neptune, Jupiter and Mars also have these so-called trojan asteroids, but Earth’s had been difficult to find because they’re only visible in daylight.

For apocalypse worrywarts, WISE also brought some good news: A survey of near-Earth asteroids showed fewer mid-sized objects than previously thought.

WISE, which launched on Dec. 14, 2009, spent 2010 scouring the entire sky using four infrared wavelengths of light, allowing it to capture objects that would otherwise have been too dim to register. In the process, it collected more than 2.7 million images and 15 trillion bytes of data, which scientists have been analyzing ever since.

“It will be exciting and rewarding to see the innovative ways the science and educational communities will use WISE in their studies now that they have the data at their fingertips,” said Roc Cutri, who leads the WISE data processing and archiving effort at the Infrared and Processing Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, in a press release.

Source : Wired

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