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7/19/2010
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NASA Finishes Image Map Of Sky

The WISE project has completed a six-month survey of the sky, discovering new asteroids and comets with an infrared telescope.

A NASA project has completed its first infrared-imaging survey of the sky, collecting more than 1 million images, some of which have been posted online.

The NASA Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) -- a telescope launched last December -- has taken six months to use infrared imaging technology to complete a full scan of the sky, covering about 80 percent of it. The data will be released to the astronomical community next May.

NASA released a new image from the project late last week. The photo is a stitched-together composite of the Pleiades cluster of stars -- also known as the Seven Sisters -- taken in February. That and other previously released images can be seen on the website.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab manages the WISE mission for the agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Space Dynamics Laboratory built the telescope, while Ball Aerospace & Technologies built the spacecraft it travels on.

The Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology, which manages the JLP, is taking care of operations and data-processing for the mission

WISE orbited around the Earth's poles and took different photos as its field of view shifted with its orbit. The craft will continue to map half the sky again in the next three months to record even more asteroids, stars and galaxies that may not have been imaged before. These images will provide information to astronomers about how the sky is changing, according to NASA.

Because of the infrared technology the telescope uses to take images, it's able to pick up the glow of some space objects other imaging crafts have missed. For instance, it can pick up the glow of cool stars, called brown dwarfs, as well as distant galaxies called ultra-luminous infrared galaxies that burst with light and energy, according to NASA.

The WISE mission also has observed more than 100,000 asteroids, some of which were not previously known by astronomers. It discovered more than 90 asteroids and comets that are in orbit closer to Earth, as well as 12 comets with orbits that are further away.

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