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25 May 2010

NASAs Wide Field Infrared Survey Explorer (otherwise WISE) has captured a huge mosaic of two bubbling clouds in space that are being called the Heart and Soul nebulae (see www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/ May 24th). The space telescope has completed three fourths of its infrared survey of the entire sky, and captured one million photographic frames. It will complete a mapping of the entire sky in July but will then spend 3 months doing the same thing again – until the solid hydrogen coolant required to chill its infrared detectors run dry. Of the 960,000 WISE images beamed down from space some show ethereal star cloud formations and others shed light on some very remote galaxies. Many of the images are speckled with little dots that represent asteroids in our solar system – photographed in the foreground  of outer space. So far, 60,000 asteroids have been observed – most of these however lie in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Around 11,000 of them are completely new undiscovered before asteroids, 50 of which are being classified as Near Earth Objects. One of the goals of WISE was to study asteroids in the solar system – and their size and properties. Some 72 comets have been spotted by WISE in the last couple of months – including some examples never seen before. WISE is taking a census of their orbits so it will be possible to calculate point of origin etc. Is the Oort Cloud real – or imaginary?

www.physorg.com/print194026437.html also reports on the WISE project. Asteroids are being discovered at the rate of 100 a day, it says – and 190 Near Earth Asteroids are now known. 50 of which are new discoveries.

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