Images from SDL-built WISE satellite show black holes, extreme galaxies

By Kevin Opsahl
The Herald Journal
September 4, 2012

This image zooms in on the region around the first "hot DOG" (red object in magenta circle), discovered by NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE. Photo courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA.

New images NASA has received from the Space Dynamics Laboratory-built WISE satellite show a “bonanza” of newfound black holes and galaxies called “hot DOGs”—the brightest objects in the universe scientists have ever seen.

NASA reported on its website this week that the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, called WISE, revealed 1,000 WISE hot DOGs—an acronym for “Dust-Obscured Galaxy.”

These hot DOGs, billions of light-years away from Earth, are “galaxies with so much dust (hydrogen and simple molecules) that they can’t be seen in ordinary light,” said USU astrophysicist Shane Larson.

“One of the things we’re most interested in is how big black holes form in the universe. And the reason that’s interesting is because we think most galaxies, like our own, have black holes in the center,” Larson said. “This discovery could tell us something about that very early history of how these black holes form.”

The Milky Way has a black hole weighing about 4 million times the mass of the sun, NASA officials believe. Black holes are a region of space that prevents anything from escaping—even light.

Astronomers aren't sure how the WISE hot DOGs are formed, but it could happen when two major galaxies collide with one another. Larson said NASA scientists believe there is a possibility the Milky Way could crash into another galaxy, called Andromeda, some 3 billion years from now.

WISE captured the images of the hot DOGs through its advanced infrared telescope and camera technology. To get it up into space, SDL researchers and NASA officials had to cool its core temperature down to minus 450 degrees Fahrenheit so it could work.

“WISE can take pictures of whatever is out there, and in my view, the beauty of the hot DOGs is that it was something completely unexpected, completely new,” said Joel Cardon, a systems engineer at SDL. “WISE has also learned more about things that (we) were expected (to find) along the way.”

WISE is still in space but has not been actively used since it completed its mission in 2011. It collected more than 2.7 million images taken at four infrared wavelengths of light, capturing everything from nearby asteroids to distant galaxies. Since then, researchers have been processing more than 15 trillion bytes of returned data.

Since the data has been released, some 175 scientific papers have been released on various discoveries made by WISE.

© 2012 The Herald Journal