LOGAN, Utah — A NASA satellite made in Utah has discovered millions of black holes and 1,000 examples of a violent phenomenon that produces some of the brightest objects in the universe.
The Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer satellite spent more than a year mapping the sky in the infrared range, a wavelength invisible to the human eye. Utah State University’s Space Dynamics Laboratory designed and built the WISE.
NASA launched WISE in 2009 and nearly all of the observations took place in 2010.
The discovery of millions of black holes by WISE is a “bonanza” for scientists, NASA astronomer Daniel Stern said.
“WISE has found this jackpot of black holes,” Stern said. “More than had been found by any previous survey.”
WISE also has found 1,000 examples of “dust-obscured galaxies,” or DOGS, that are luminous in infrared.
The galaxies found by the satellite, called WISE Hot DOGS, are tens of billions of times more luminous than the sun, Utah State astrophysicist Shane Larson said.
Astronomers aren’t sure how they were formed. One idea is they’re triggered by the collision of two massive galaxies, each with a black hole in its center.
It’s thought that the collisions stir gas over vast distances.
“We’re seeing them heat up the gas in the galaxy,” Larson said. “That gas is becoming warmer, hotter than it was. And that makes it visible to our instruments, like WISE.”
WISE has given scientists a huge amount of new data to study for years, NASA scientist Peter Eisenhardt said.
“It’s quite a major advance and quite a good bargain for its field,” he said. “We released our data in March, and there are now about 175 papers in the published astronomical literature based on WISE data. And that rate is climbing rapidly.”