A large collection of space photos taken at wavelengths that are invisible to the human eye and blocked by Earth’s atmosphere has been released as a New Year’s gift to the people of Earth by NASA and Penn State University.
The images were captured by a telescope on board NASA’s Swift satellite, whose science and flight operations are controlled by Penn State from the Mission Operations Center in State College, Pennsylvania, using the Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope, which resulted from Penn State’s collaboration with the Mullard Space Science Laboratory of the University College-London.
The telescope is one of just a few that study ultraviolet light, much of which is blocked by the atmosphere surrounding Earth.
“This extensive image gallery has some of the best pictures ever taken by this telescope, including some very early images that have not been published until now,” Michael Siegel, lead scientist for the Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope, said.
The image gallery is online, and it also can be viewed with the free Swift Explorer Mission iPhone app developed by Penn State.
The image gallery includes images from Siegel’s study of the Omega Centauri star cluster, Penn State Research Associate Erik Hoversten’s studies of galaxies near to our Milky Way Galaxy, and NASA Astronomer Stefan Immler’s work on the early images captured by the Swift observatory.
“We intend to keep updating the gallery about once a month with new images from Swift as well as an interesting collection of images that document stages in Swift’s preparation for launch into space,” Siegel said.
“We also plan to continue adding spectacular images from several new long-term studies of the Small Magellanic Cloud and the Large Magellanic Cloud,” he said.
The Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope (UVOT) is the only one of the three telescopes on Swift that captures cosmic light at energies at and just beyond those that can be seen by the human eye. It plays a critical role in rapidly pinpointing the locations of gamma-ray bursts (GRBs), the brightest explosions in the universe.