Astro Bob blog: Wise up with WISEA new space telescope returns some toasty images. Learn about a new, free app for your iPhone or iTouch that lets you keep track of solar activity. The crescent moon will guide you to Aries tonight.
By: Bob King, Duluth News Tribune
Wise up with WISE
What a gorgeous photo! This comet, known as C/2007 Q3, is currently visible in the morning sky in Bootes and within range of moderate-sized telescopes. The comet appears red compared to the blue stars because the dust in its tail is much colder. Astronomers use images like this one to learn about the size and composition of the dust particles in comet's head and tail. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA
Every time I turn around there's a fresh batch of beautiful images gushing forth from a new satellite, telescope or spacecraft. It happened again yesterday when I opened up a page of pictures sent by the recently launced Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer or WISE. WISE is an orbiting telescope that observes everything from asteroids to galaxies in the light of infrared or heat energy. Since many things, including you and me, radiate infrared light, the telescope has to be kept cold so the images don't get washed out by ambient heat. We're talking VERY cold. The "ice chest" that chills the scope and detectors is solid hydrogen at 430 below zero.
Dust heated by newborn stars glows orange in the photo taken by WISE of the Andromeda Galaxy. Notice that the dust -- along with the young stars -- trace the galaxy's spiral structure. Andromeda is 2.5 million light years from Earth. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA
One of the most common infrared sources is dust which absorbs sunlight (and starlight), warms up and re-radiates infrared light. Dust is found within comets, the asteroid belt and in profusion around star-forming regions within the Milky Way and in many other galaxies. Because stars are born from clouds of dust and gas, where you see wads of glowing dust you're likely to find plenty of newborn stars. WISE also has a leg up on sighting cool, dim stars which give off more light in the infrared than they do in visual light.
You've got to hand it to NASA lately for cooking up creative ways to share space science with the man and woman on the street. The agency just introduced a new app for the iPhone and iTouch called 3D Sun (at left) that delivers a live global view of the sun. The photos are provided by the pair of STEREO spacecraft, one orbiting ahead of and the other orbiting behind the sun. Working in tandem they cover nearly the entire solar globe in extreme ultraviolet light (EUV) where flares and other magnetic activity stand out crisply.
You can spin the disk to see both front and back sides, zoom in and even get an alert when a flare erupts. Sure wish I owned one. To get the free program just go to Apple's app store and type in '3D sun' in the search box. For more information, please click HERE.
Even though the air was turbulent last night and images through the telescope were shaky, I enjoyed getting out for a walk in pleasant temperatures. The stars were certainly bright and Mars in Cancer is high, high, high in the sky. Keep an eye on the planet because you'll soon notice that its retrograde motion to the west will slow to a halt. Tomorrow I'll post a fresh map so you can anticipate Mars' next move.
The crescent moon looked sharp enough last night to cut steel. Tonight it will appear a little fuller and serve as an excellent guide to the constellation Aries the Ram. Aries is smallest of the 12 zodiac constellations; its figure consists of only three obvious stars that remind me of a finger pointing at the western horizon. Rams were important animals in ancient times because they were often sacrificed to the gods in hopes of winning one favor or another. Aries was a special ram because his golden fleece was sought by Jason and the Argonauts.
Look for the three stars of Aries the Ram less than one outstretched fist
directly above the moon tonight (Thurs.). In order of brightness from top
to bottom we have Alpha, Beta and Gamma Arietis. Created with Stellarium