Ready for a decade-plus journey across the sky? NEOWISE ( NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide Field Infrared Survey Explorer ), completes a trip to the middle of the Sun every six months, taking images in all directions. If we put all those images together, we get an “all-sky” map that shows the location and brightness of hundreds of millions of objects.
Now, using up to 18 maps produced by NASA’s spacecraft, scientists have created a movie of the sky with changes spanning more than a decade.
A ‘timelapse’ of the changing sky
One of the benefits of the NEOWISE data is looking at how stars form. This spacecraft’s infrared vision can see through the dust surrounding protostars, dusty sprouts of hot gas that are forming stars. In the same way, astronomers are also learning much more about black holes thanks to this telescope. The original WISE study discovered millions of supermassive black holes at the centers of distant galaxies, and the new data has allowed astronomers to measure the disks around distant black holes.
Additionally, this new timelapse from NASA’s NEOWISE mission offers an excellent opportunity to see other objects as they move and change over time ; such as previously hidden brown dwarfs, a feeding black hole, a dying star, a star-forming region, and a shining star.
A story that continues
NASA originally launched WISE in 2009 to scan the entire sky and study objects beyond our solar system. Initially, the telescope used infrared light to see a little bit of everything: from nearby stars to luminous galaxies in the distant universe. Then, when WISE ran out of coolant, the mission ended and NASA repurposed the telescope as NEOWISE, whose goal is to continue using the coolant-free infrared detectors to track asteroids and other near-Earth objects (NEOs).
“We never anticipated that the spacecraft would be operating this long, and I don’t think we could have anticipated the science that we would be able to do with this amount of data,” said Peter Eisenhardt , an astronomer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Space Scientist. WISE project in an official NASA press release.
Their work is far from over, and NEOWISE continues its mapping journey ; two new sky maps will be published in March 2023 (in principle, it will be operational until June 2023). We still have a lot to discover thanks to NEOWISE.
“If you go out and look at the night sky, it might seem like nothing ever changes, but that’s not the case,” said Amy Mainzer, principal investigator for NEOWISE at the University of Arizona in Tucson. “The stars are shining and exploding. Asteroids zoom by . Black holes are destroying stars. The universe is a very busy and active place.”
In the future we will also have information from the NEO Surveyor ( Near-Earth Object Surveillance Mission ), designed to survey the solar system for potentially dangerous asteroids and which is expected to start operations in 2026. The latter will allow us to have more find unknown asteroids faster and identify potentially dangerous asteroids and comets before they are a threat to us here on Earth.
Referencia: NASA Telescope Takes 12-Year Time-Lapse Movie of Entire Sky Press Release 2022 NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA