Japan launches infrared observatory

The Japanese space agency sent a new infrared (IR) telescope into orbit today, the first such probe since 1983. The Astro-F telescope will circle earth’s poles to conduct a survey of the skies.

Most of us are used to seeing the night sky with just the visible spectrum, but astronomers since the mid-20th century have been exploring the heavens with every frequency from gamma rays to radio waves. The different frequencies of light provide different kinds of information.

IR (heat) waves penetrate dust and gas clouds better than visible light, and are associated with stellar and planetary formation.

IRAS, a joint US-European telescope, previously surveyed the infrared heavens and took the first image of the dust- and-gas-enshrouded core of our galaxy.
IRAS image of Milky Way coreInfrared view of Milky Way core.

For more IRAS images, go here. For details about the launch, go here.

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