The image on the right shows a portion of the sky available before the AllWISE project; the left image shows the same part of the sky in a new AllWISE image. The circle shows where a galaxy that might have gone undetected before now stands out. Credit: NASA/JPL
LOS ANGELES, Nov. 15 (UPI) -- NASA has released a new atlas and catalog of data on three-quarters of a billion objects detected during two full scans of the sky by its WISE spacecraft.
The Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer scanned the entire sky for infrared light in 2010, snapping dozens pictures of every star and galaxy before it ran out of the coolant needed to chill some of its heat-seeking detectors.
NASA subsequently decided to fund a second scan of the sky, known as NEOWISE, to look for asteroids and comets.
Now a new project has been funded: ALLWISE, which has stacked up of the images from both sky scans, thereby doubling exposure times and making new stars and galaxies visible, NASA reported Thursday.
"By stacking up the data, we have created a monster database with dozens of individual measurements on every one of the infrared sources we detect," said Ned Wright of UCLA, the principal investigator of WISE.
Objects closer to Earth appear to move across the sky over time in relation to background stars, and with the new atlas containing images of the sky taken six months apart, if something jumps across the images then it must be located nearby and could be a never-before-seen neighbor, astronomers said.
The new catalog will also help with studies of distant galaxies, revealing some that were invisible in previous observations.
"The extra depth of ALLWISE lets us see galaxies so distant that their light was emitted in the first half of the history of the universe," said Peter Eisenhardt, the WISE project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.