News

USU-built telescope captures heart and soul of universe

By Alex Cabrero
KSL News
March 15, 2012

LOGAN -- NASA released some amazing images of deep space today that it has thanks to Utah State University. The WISE telescope that captured these images was built at USU.

In all, the WISE telescope, which stands for Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, captured millions of images, and NASA has released 18,000 of them. Basically, it scanned the entire sky in infrared instead of normal light.

The difference is amazing and the images are breathtaking, proving once again that earth is a teeny-tiny part of the universe when compared to everything else that's out there.

"We're darn proud of it," said John Elwell, manager of the program that brought the telescope to life. He said the mission is a huge success.

"It's primary purpose was to provide the infrared catalog of the whole sky for the benefit of astrophysicists to study the origins of our universe," he said.

WISE was launched in 2009 to scan the sky. One of the first pictures WISE took showed just how many objects are out there, in just a little window.

Scientists wanted to see what things looked like using infrared.

This WISE image shows a comet zipping in between mars and Jupiter.
(Courtesy of NASA)

"Asteroids are much brighter in infrared light than they are in visible light," Elwell said.

In addition to asteroids, there's a comet flying between Jupiter and Mars and the Andromeda galaxy, our closest neighbor galaxy, but still some 2.5 million light years from the Milky Way galaxy.

A thin bright band of blue light - breaks the universe in two. Zoom in a little closer and the mysteries explode onto the black canvas like fireworks. Big blue stars, some of the oldest in space, surrounded by spunky newborns with their hot red eyes flying in clusters.

WISE peered into the guts of constellations, like the head of Orion the hunter, his shoulder, glowing a brilliant blue and a flame shooting through his belt.

WISE captured shooting stars, one screaming so fast that if it were a car, it would take just one second to drive from San Francisco to New York.

There's the wreath galaxy, because of the its red and green color, and a better photo of RCW 86, which is the oldest recorded supernova First documented by the Chinese in 185 A.C.E.

"Darn proud that little old USU in northern Utah has built an instrument that…literally will impact astrophysicists for decades to come," Elwell said.

It took WISE 13 months to get all those photos and more are being processed. Overall, NASA is calling the mission a huge success which for folks at USU is a pretty big deal.

The images released can be viewed at this website.

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