space-wise-galaxy

This image from the WISE infrared space telescope shows the huge Andromeda galaxy and two of its satellite galaxies, M32 and M110, just above and below the main spiral, respectively. Andromeda, or M31, is the closest galaxy to our own, at 2.5 million light-years away. ((NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA))

NASA released the first pictures from the WISE infrared space telescope Wednesday, including a new view of our closest galactic neighbour.

The new images include a shot of the Andromeda galaxy and its smaller satellite galaxies, a glowing comet, a distant galaxy cluster, and cloud of dust and gas teeming with newly born stars.

The Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, launched in December, is on a mission to survey the entire sky in the infrared part of the light spectrum.

Since it began its scan of the heavens Jan. 14, it has sent more than 250,000 raw images back to Earth, and NASA has processed some of them for the public to see, assigning false colours to the different wavelengths of infrared light.

"These first images are proving the spacecraft's secondary mission of helping to track asteroids, comets and other stellar objects will be just as critically important as its primary mission of surveying the entire sky in infrared," said Ed Weiler, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, in a statement.

The satellite is orbiting the Earth more than 500 kilometres over the north and south poles, detecting objects that are difficult to see from the ground, including asteroids, cool stars such as brown dwarfs, and galaxies that shine brightly in infrared light.

WISE is mapping the sky in the infrared, so it has to be cooled so that it won't be blinded by its own heat. While the vacuum of space is cold, it isn't a very good conductor of heat, so the satellite carries super-cooled liquid hydrogen, which it vents into space.

Because WISE has a limited supply of hydrogen coolant, the satellite's mission will last only about 10 months, enough time to survey the entire sky about one-and-a-half times.

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