A Time Lapse (VIDEO) from NASA Shows 12 Years of Space Evolution as Seen by the WISE Space Telescope

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New achievements and images continue to be revealed by NASA, after the sublime images of James Webb of the pillars of creation, it is the turn of an unprecedented panorama, of our entire sky, to be revealed. This is a 12-year time-lapse, showing the changes undergone by millions of stars across the universe, thanks to data from the NEOWISE project. The study of the maps resulting from this data gives us valuable information about the evolution of the Universe over a decade.

NASA’s NEOWISE (Near-Earth Object Wide Field Infrared Survey Explorer) mission uses a space telescope to monitor asteroids and comets, including those that could pose a threat to Earth. It follows the WISE Telescope project, launched in December 2009, which surveyed the full sky in four bands of infrared wavelengths until the frozen hydrogen cooling the telescope ran out in September 2010.

Nevertheless, observations resumed in December 2013, when the telescope was brought out of hibernation and reused for the NEOWISE project. During its primary mission, NEOWISE quickly identified and characterized near-Earth objects by collecting data on their size and other key measurements. It thus provided the scientific community with infrared detections of more than 158,000 minor planets, including more than 34,000 new discoveries.

It was from images captured during those years that NASA made a 12-year time lapse of the entire night sky. Yes, still images of the sky reveal cosmic wonders, but movies can bring them to life. This is how the video montages of observations with the NEOWISE space telescope reveal the location of hundreds of millions of objects and the amount of infrared light each emits. This information can then be analyzed to understand the behavior of celestial objects.

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Consider the whole sky

You should know that the NEOWISE spacecraft makes half the solar tour every six months and takes images in all directions. Together, these images form a map of “the whole sky” showing the location and brightness of hundreds of millions of objects.

Specifically, it is from this data that NASA created 18 maps of the entire sky (the 19e and 20e will be published in March 2023). This allowed scientists to create what is essentially a time-lapse movie of the sky, revealing changes spanning a decade.

VIDEO — Time-lapse footage from NASA’s NEOWISE mission, giving astronomers the chance to see previously hidden brown dwarfs, a feeding black hole, a dying star, a star-forming region and a star coming to life (© NASA) :

Each map taken individually represents a source of important data, but the whole point here is to view these maps in sequence as a “time-lapse”. They then form an even more solid resource for trying to better understand the Universe. Comparing maps can reveal objects on distant objects that have changed position or brightness over time, known as time-domain astronomy.

Amy Mainzer, principal investigator for NEOWISE at the University of Arizona in Tucson, said in a statement: When you go outside and look at the night sky, it may seem like nothing ever changes, but it doesn’t. The stars shine and explode. The asteroids are passing at full speed. Black holes tear apart stars. The universe is a very busy and active place ».

Understanding stars and black holes

Watching the sky change for more than a decade also contributed to studies of star formation. NEOWISE can peer into dusty blankets enveloping protostars (new stars) or balls of hot gas on their way to becoming stars. Then the protostars shimmer and flare as they accumulate more mass from the dust clouds around them. Scientists are conducting long-term monitoring of nearly 1,000 protostars with NEOWISE to better understand the early stages of star formation.

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Data from NEOWISE has also improved the understanding of black holes. The original WISE project discovered millions of supermassive black holes at the center of distant galaxies. In a recent study, scientists used data from NEOWISE and a technique called “echo mapping” to measure the size of disks of hot, glowing gas surrounding distant black holes, which are too small and too far away to be detected by a telescope to be imaged.

Study the evolution of brown dwarfs

As mentioned earlier, despite the project change, the WISE infrared telescope continued to scan the sky every six months, and astronomers continued to use the data to study objects outside our solar system. Some maps sequenced in the NASA publication are from the second iteration, in 2020, of a project called CatWISE: an object “catalogue” of 12 maps of the entire sky.

Maps are especially useful for studying brown dwarfs. These are objects that do not quite have the mass needed to initiate the merger into a bright star, although they begin to form in the same way. Those closest to Earth appear to move through the sky faster than objects farther away, allowing NEOWISE to spot them more easily among the billions of objects on the map.

A companion project to CatWISE, called “Backyard Worlds: Planet 9,” invites citizen scientists to analyze NEOWISE data to find moving objects that computer searches may have missed.

Originally, with the first two WISE maps, scientists found about 200 brown dwarfs just 65 light-years from our sun. Additional maps, recently released, revealed 60 more and doubled the number of known Y dwarfs – the coolest brown dwarfs.

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These discoveries contribute to the understanding of objects in the vicinity of the Sun and the Earth. Additionally, a more complete count of brown dwarfs near the Sun helps estimate when star formation began in the Milky Way.

Peter Eisenhardt, astronomer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and WISE project scientist, concludes: We never expected the spacecraft to run this long, and I don’t think we could have anticipated the science we would be able to do with so much data. ».



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