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WISE Mission Warms Up But Keeps Chugging Along

October 4, 2010

WASHINGTON -- After completing its primary mission to map the infrared
sky, NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, has reached
the expected end of its onboard supply of frozen coolant. Although
WISE has 'warmed up,' NASA has decided the mission will still
continue. WISE will now focus on our nearest neighbors -- the
asteroids and comets traveling together with our solar system's
planets around the sun.

"Two of our four infrared detectors still work even at warmer
temperatures, so we can use those bands to continue our hunt for
asteroids and comets," said Amy Mainzer of NASA's Jet Propulsion
Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Mainzer is the principal investigator
of the new phase of the mission, now known as the NEOWISE
Post-Cryogenic Mission. It takes its name from the acronym for a
near-Earth object, NEO, and WISE. A cryogen is a coolant used to make
the detectors more sensitive. In WISE's case, the cryogen was frozen
hydrogen.

WISE launched Dec. 14, 2009, from Vandenberg Air Force Station in
California aboard a Delta II launch vehicle. Its 16-inch infrared
telescope scans the skies from an Earth-circling orbit crossing the
poles. It has already snapped more than 1.8 million pictures at four
infrared wavelengths. Currently, the survey has covered the sky about
one-and-one-half times, producing a vast catalog containing hundreds
of millions of objects from near-Earth asteroids to cool stars called
"brown dwarfs" to distant, luminous galaxies.

To date, WISE has discovered 19 comets and more than 33,500 asteroids,
including 120 near-Earth objects, which are those bodies with orbits
that pass relatively close to Earth's path around the sun. More
discoveries regarding objects outside our solar system, such as the
brown dwarfs and luminous galaxies, are expected.

"The science data collected by WISE will be used by the scientific
community for decades," said Jaya Bajpayee, the WISE program
executive in the Astrophysics Division of NASA's Science Mission
Directorate at the agency's Headquarters in Washington. "It will also
provide a sky map for future observatories like NASA's James Webb
Space Telescope."

The NEOWISE Post-Cryogenic Mission is designed to complete the survey
of the solar system and finish the second survey of the rest of the
sky at its new warmer temperature of about minus 334 degrees
Fahrenheit using its two shortest-wavelength detectors. The survey
extension will last one to four months, depending on early results.

NEOWISE also will keep on observing other targets, such as the closest
brown dwarfs to the sun. In addition, data from the second sky scan
will help identify objects that have moved in the sky since they were
first detected by WISE. This allows astronomers to pick out the brown
dwarfs closest to our sun. The closer the object is, the more it will
appear to move from our point of view.

The WISE science team now is analyzing millions of objects captured in
the images, including many never seen before. A first batch of WISE
data, covering more than half the sky, will be released to the
astronomical community in spring 2011, with the rest to follow about
one year later.

"WISE has provided a guidebook to the universe with thousands of
targets worth viewing with a large telescope," said Edward (Ned)
Wright, WISE principal investigator from University of California,
Los Angeles. "We're working on figuring out just how far away the
brown dwarfs are, and how luminous the galaxies are."

A gallery of WISE images is available at

http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/WISE/multimedia/gallery/gallery-index.html

JPL manages the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer for the Science
Mission Directorate. The science instrument was built by the Space
Dynamics Laboratory in Logan, Utah, and the spacecraft was built by
Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colo. Science
operations and data processing take place at the Infrared Processing
and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in
Pasadena.

 

 

 

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