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The Rise of WISE

Submitted by Kevin Jardine on 14 March, 2012 - 12:27

Today the first new infrared map of the entire sky in 30 years was released by the WISE team. The previous all-sky infrared map, created by the IRAS satellite in the 1980s, revolutionised astronomy by stripping the veil of obscuring dust away and allowing us to view thousands of objects for the first time.

Since the release of the IRAS data, more detailed infrared observations of a narrow strip surrounding the galactic plane and other selected objects have been carried out by other infrared satellites, including MSX, Spitzer and Herschel. However, much of the sky beyond the galactic plane has been little explored. WISE's sharp view now dramatically improves the previous IRAS results and opens up a huge new opportunity for galactic exploration. This is especially true for local objects within the Gould belt, which can be found anywhere in the sky, but also even in our Milky Way's spiral arms, which are warped and can wander well away from the "official" galactic plane.

Currently the maps are only available in small images appropriate for astronomers studying specific objects. I'll certainly be taking advantage of these to improve the images on this site. In January the WISE team released a breathtaking "supermosaic" of the sky in the direction of Cepheus and Cassiopeia. I hope that the WISE team will be producing more such supermosaics in the future, or perhaps even an interface that allows anyone to explore the entire sky in infrared!

Correction: NASA has released one new supermosaic, an enormous 19080x9598 image of the entire WISE data set. You can find it as the highest resolution version (300MB, below the main image) available here:

Even this enormous image is a tiny fraction of the full WISE data set, but it serves as a useful overview. I'll look into reprojecting it for the Milky Way Explorer on this site.