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NASA Introduces Epic All-Sky 12-Year Time-lapse: ScienceAlert

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NASA continues to outdo itself with the glorious space images it continues to release – but even by the agency’s high standards, a 12-year time span of the entire night sky is an impressive feat.

The images were first captured in those years by the NEOWISE (Near-Earth Object Wide Field Infrared Survey Explorer) space telescope, which was launched in 2009 under the previous name ‘WISE’ to study the Universe outside our Solar System.

It has since been renamed and renamed to track near-Earth objects, including asteroids and comets.

Night Sky Mosaic
A mosaic of infrared images put together by the NEOWISE telescope. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA)

The data collected by NEOWISE gives scientists an invaluable insight into how celestial bodies move and change over time (time-domain astronomy), whether it’s stars exploding or circulating in the night sky, or gas-eating black holes.

“If you go out and look at the night sky, it may seem like nothing has changed, but that’s not the case,” says astronomer Amy Mainzer of the University of Arizona, principal investigator of NEOWISE.

The readings taken by NEOWISE show the location of hundreds of millions of objects and the amount of infrared light each one emits. This information can then be analyzed to understand what an object is doing.

Every six months, all data of the sky is collected (the time it takes for the telescope to travel halfway around the Sun), and astronomers have now put together 18 of these maps to create the time warp.

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The maps have been particularly useful for studying brown dwarfs—objects that, despite starting their existence in similar ways, lack the mass to ignite the fusion necessary to become a brightly burning star. Those closer to Earth seem to move faster in the sky than objects farther away, making it easier for NEOWISE to pick them out.

About 260 brown dwarfs have been detected by the telescope, and thanks to their research, we know twice as many Y-dwarfs, the coldest brown dwarfs of particular interest to astronomers, which provide clues about the efficiency and timing of star production. in the evolution of our galaxy.

“We never anticipated that the spacecraft would operate for this long, and I don’t think we can predict the science we can do with so much data,” says astronomer Peter Eisenhardt of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. California.

We’re also learning more about how stars form through the telescope’s sweep of the sky: protostars stand out as flickering objects before they became stars, and scientists are now watching almost 1,000 of them to see how they evolve.

Then there is perhaps the most attractive celestial body of all – the black hole. Data from NEOWISE can be used to identify bursts of infrared light from swirling matter clouds. black holesit allows us to see these objects at a greater distance.

The work is not finished yet and NEOWISE continues its map journey with two sky maps due in March 2023. Expect more to be revealed by the project – the activity you can’t see while looking at the stars. night.

“The stars shine and explode,” says Mainzer. “Asteroids are buzzing past. Black holes are tearing stars apart. The universe is a really dense, active place.”

You can learn more on the NEOWISE Project website.

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