NASA's WISE infrared telescope, which recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of its launch into space, has returned some stunning photos lately.
The new pictures from WISE short for Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, which launched on Dec. 14, 2009 are dramatic, colorful images of interstellar clouds of gas and dust called nebulas.
The first photo depicts a structure known as the Flaming Star Nebula, which is about 1,500 light-years away in the constellation Auriga. At the nebula's heart is the star AE Aurigae, which appears to be ablaze, hence the name.
AE Aurigae is a so-called runaway star, researchers said. It was likely born in the Trapezium Cluster, in the constellation Orion, but was booted out by a collision with a binary star system about 2.5 million years ago.
The enhanced colors seen in the image represent specific wavelengths of infrared light, which unaided human eyes cannot see. Hot stars scattered throughout the nebula show up as blue and cyan. Glowing gas appears green, while heated-up dust is primarily red, researchers said.
This WISE photo shows the Jellyfish Nebula also known as IC 443 which is about 5,000 light-years away from Earth, in the constellation Gemini. The jellyfish shape is a shell surrounding the remnants of a massive star that exploded 5,000 to 10,000 years ago, researchers said.
This huge supernova blast sent out shock waves that heated up surrounding gas and dust, forming the shell, researchers said. The different colors again, representations of various infrared wavelengths result from differences in the energy intensity of the shock wave, and light emissions by disparate materials.
This mosaic image features three nebulas that are part of the giant Orion Molecular Cloud, about 1,500 light-years from Earth. The image covers an area of the sky about three times as high and wide as the full moon, researchers said.
The Flame Nebula is the huge, luminous structure in the center of the image. What makes it shine so brightly is Alnitak, the blue star to the right of the central cloud. The Horsehead Nebula is also visible, as a faint bump on the lower-right side of the vertical dust ridge, researchers said.