A new portrait released by NASA combines an unlikely group of space bodies each located in entirely separate regions of the universe.
Captured by the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), the image depicts the Helix nebula, found far outside our solar system, with tracks of asteroids located within the solar system.
The image was discovered by accident during a hunt for asteroids. It comes at a time when the mission's team is celebrating its four year anniversary of the launch of the probe that was renamed NEOWISE in August after being switched back on to look for more asteroids.
"I was recently looking for asteroids in images collected in 2010, and this picture jumped out at me," said Amy Mainzer, the NEOWISE principal investigator at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "I recognized the Helix nebula right away."
In the picture, sets of yellow dots represents a pictures of single asteroids taken as they moved across WISE's view. Using this data, scientists are able to both discover and characterize asteroids - including those whose paths bring them relatively near Earth.
The Helix nebula is depicted in a range of colors depending on the infrared wavelengths emitted. Longer wavelengths are depicted as red and shorter wavelengths blue.
WISE blasted off the launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California Dec. 14, 2009. Within just two years, it had completed scanning the entire sky in infrared light not once, but twice. In all, the mission amassed pictures of nearly 1 billion objects, ranging from far away galaxies to stars and asteroids.
Having completed what it set out to do, WISE went to sleep, but now engineers are bringing it back to life in the search for even more asteroids.
"WISE is the spacecraft that keeps on giving," said Ned Wright of UCLA, the principal investigator of WISE before it transitioned into NEOWISE.