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NASA releases impressive sky-mapping data


How many times have you found yourself lying in bed at night, gazing up at the stunning beauty of the night sky, filled with all its wonder and mystery, and suddenly thought: “Where’s my roof gone?” Hopefully never, as it would indicate that you have some serious issues with the structural integrity of your house.

Stand outside though, in a field far from the light pollution of towns and cities, and on a clear night you’ll be made to feel very small as you survey the awesome endlessness of the universe above you.

If you’re the kind of person inspired by such a sight, you’ll probably be interested to know that NASA has just released a veritable treasure trove of space-related information thanks to its Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer mission – otherwise known as WISE.

A statement released on Thursday by NASA said: “Astronomers across the globe can now sift through hundreds of millions of galaxies, stars and asteroids collected in the first bundle of data from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission.”

The aim of the mission, which launched in December 2009, was to map the night sky in infrared light, hopefully revealing many space objects that can’t be seen in visible light. Many of the 2.7 million images are available for viewing online, and the plan is to have a complete map of the night sky on the Web by the spring of next year.

The images include those of distant galaxies and not-so-distant (though hopefully nothing to worry about) asteroids. While many parts of the night sky are already known to astronomers, the WISE mission has also revealed plenty of exciting new bits and bobs. These include 20 comets and more than 33,000 asteroids, which all happen to be floating about between Mars and Jupiter. Astronomers will continue to closely examine the incoming data in a bid to look for more new objects or any hitherto unknown oddities.

This exciting survey of the sky will have astronomers beside themselves with intergalactic glee, and with the data available online to all, the universe may be about to get a whole new audience.

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