A spiral galaxy that is usually shrouded behind our own Milky Way has come out of hiding in a new infrared image from NASA's latest space telescope.
The new photo reveals a leggy cosmic apparition called IC 342, sometimes known as the "hidden galaxy," and was snapped by the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). The WISE space telescope is mapping the sky in unprecedented detail to find previously unseen asteroids and other objects.
Stargazers and professional astronomers typically have a difficult time seeing this galaxy through the Milky Way's bright band of stars, dust and gas, but WISE's infrared vision penetrates through this veil, offering a crisp view.
In a spiral galaxy like IC 342, dust and gas are concentrated in the arms. The denser pockets of gas trigger the formation of new stars, which is represented in green and yellow in the photo.
The core, shown in red, is also bursting with young stars, which are heating up dust. Stars that appear blue reside within our Milky Way, between us and IC 342.
This galaxy has been of great interest to astronomers because of its relative proximity to our planet. Yet, determining its exact distance from Earth has proven difficult due to the intervening Milky Way.
The famed late astronomer Edwin Hubble, after whom the Hubble Space Telescope is named, first thought the galaxy might belong to our own Local Group, a neighborhood of about 40 galaxies that includes the Milky Way and Andromeda. But current estimates now place it farther away, at about 6.6 to 11 million light-years.This image was made from observations by all four infrared detectors aboard WISE. Blue and cyan represent infrared light at wavelengths of 3.4 and 4.6 microns, which is primarily light from stars. Green and red represent light at 12 and 22 microns, which is primarily emission from warm dust.
NASA launched the WISE space telescope in December 2009. It is expected to complete its initial survey of the sky in the first six months of its mission.
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