Contact: Jane Platt (818) 354-0880

Twin Telescope Sky Survey “Gives You The Stars”

Your home computer can become a portal to a wonderland of
stars, thanks to a massive release of images from an infrared sky
survey sponsored by NASA and the National Science Foundation.

“Any computer with a web browser can be transformed into a
desktop observatory,” said Dr. Michael Skrutskie, of the
University of Massachusetts, principal investigator of the sky
survey, which has scanned the nighttime sky and produced an
online image potpourri of half a million galaxies and 162 million

“The general public can see a menagerie of objects in
infrared wavelengths that they couldn’t see in any other way,”
said project scientist Dr. Roc Cutri. The 1.9 million images
would fill 6,000 CD-ROMs, equivalent to 4,000 gigabytes or four
terabytes of computer hard disk space.

The images were gathered by the Two-Micron All Sky Survey
(2MASS), the most thorough census of stars ever made. The survey
detects infrared wavelengths that are beyond the red light in the
rainbow of visible colors. Infrared light penetrates the gas and
dust in our galaxy and is particularly effective for detecting
the heat of very cool objects not visible with optical

In order to cover the entire sky, the 2MASS survey uses two
highly automated, 51-inch (1.3-meter) diameter telescopes, one at
Mount Hopkins, Ariz., the other at the National Science
Foundation’s Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, Chile.

Operations for 2MASS began in 1997. Its catalogs will
contain more than 300 million objects by the time observations
are concluded in 2001. Final processing of the data and release
to the public will be complete by 2003.

Already, 2MASS data have uncovered numerous stars with
characteristics so unique that astronomers had to revise a
century-old classification system of known types of stars.

Astronomers armed with 2MASS data also discovered the
coolest brown dwarfs, or failed stars, known to date. They also
detected previously unknown star clusters within, and galaxies
beyond, our own Milky Way, and have mapped new star-birth
regions. In the distant reaches of the universe, 2MASS
discovered a new population of dust-obscured active galaxies,
quasars and super-massive black holes.

“The current release is based on a volume of data several
hundred times larger than that contained in the human genome,”
said Skrutskie. “Astronomers will become cosmic geneticists,
searching out patterns in these sky maps to decode the structure
and origin of the Milky Way and the surrounding nearby Universe.”

The 2MASS project is a collaborative effort between the
University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and the Infrared Processing
and Analysis Center (IPAC) in Pasadena, Calif., operated by
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and the California
Institute of Technology, both in Pasadena. Cutri is affiliated
with IPAC, which combines and processes 2MASS images into usable
data. The University of Massachusetts was responsible for the
development and construction of the 2MASS telescopes and cameras
and currently manages the collection of survey data.

Part of NASA’s Origins Program, 2MASS is funded by NASA’s
Office of Space Science and the National Science Foundation.
2MASS results will benefit future Origins missions, including the
Space Infrared Telescope Facility and the Next Generation Space
Telescope, and will also help scientists plan observations for
the Hubble Space Telescope and the Stratospheric Observatory for
Infrared Astronomy. JPL manages the program for NASA’s Office of
Space Science, Washington, D.C. JPL is a division of Caltech.

A sampling of the images (including the center of our Milky
Way Galaxy, the hat-shaped Sombrero Galaxy, and the Orion Nebula)
is posted online at: . Additional
information about 2MASS is available at: and .