Cocktail Astronomy | WISE's Infared Impressionism

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA

Here at Future-ish, we love astronomy and we love cocktails. So to prep our fans (and ourselves) for those stellar weekend cocktail conversations, we are pleased to offer our Cocktail Astronomy post each Friday.

This week's little gem is not a fabulous star, planet or galaxy, it is NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE. The folks at the California Institute of Technology's Jet Propulsion Laboratory recently compared WISE's representation of infrared light through color to the work of French Impressionist Vincent van Gogh who was, himself, a master of light and color. In the case of the nebula above, the dynamic colors are produced by different wavelengths of infrared light emitted by interstellar dust and background stars. Consider it van Gogh's real life 'Starry Night'. The nebula on display in WISE's image above is none other than NGC 2174, also known as the Monkey Head Nebula, located about 6,400 light-years away from Earth in the Orion constellation. It was discovered in 1877 by French astronomer Jean Marie Stephan at the Observatoire de Marseille, France. Thus, the comparison to van Gogh is quite fitting in this week's astronomy meets art history post. Today, NGC 2174 is a celebrity among both amateur and professional astronomers as it is quite photogenic and visible with a simple pair of binoculars.