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Recently Reactivated NASA Spacecraft Spots Its First New Asteroid
January 7, 2014
PR Newswire -- January 7, 2014
NEOWISE originally was called the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE),
which had made the most comprehensive survey to date of asteroids and comets.
The spacecraft was shut down in 2011 after its primary mission was completed.
But in September 2013, it was reactivated, renamed and given a new mission,
which is to assist NASA's efforts to identify the population of potentially
hazardous near-Earth objects (NEOs). NEOWISE also can assist in characterizing
previously detected asteroids that could be considered potential targets for
future exploration missions.
NEOWISE's first discovery of its renewed mission came on Dec. 29 -- a near-Earth
asteroid designated 2013 YP139. The mission's sophisticated software picked out
the moving object against a background of stationary stars. As NEOWISE circled
Earth scanning the sky, it observed the asteroid several times over half a day
before the object moved beyond its view. Researchers at the University of
Arizona used the Spacewatch telescope at the Kitt Peak National Observatory
southwest of Tucson to confirm the discovery. Peter Birtwhistle, an amateur
astronomer at the Great Shefford Observatory in West Berkshire, England, also
contributed follow-up observations. NASA expects 2013 YP139 will be the first of
hundreds of asteroid discoveries for NEOWISE.
"We are delighted to get back to finding and characterizing asteroids and
comets, especially those that come into Earth's neighborhood," said Amy Mainzer,
the mission's principal investigator from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)
in Pasadena, Calif. "With our infrared sensors that detect heat, we can learn
about their sizes and reflectiveness."
2013 YP139 is about 27 million miles (43 million kilometers) from Earth. Based
on its infrared brightness, scientists estimate it to be roughly 0.4 miles (650
meters) in diameter and extremely dark, like a piece of coal. The asteroid
circles the sun in an elliptical orbit tilted to the plane of our solar system
and is classified as potentially hazardous. It is possible for its orbit to
bring it as close as 300,000 miles from Earth, a little more than the distance
to the moon. However, it will not come that close within the next century.
WISE discovered more than 34,000 asteroids and characterized 158,000 throughout
the solar system during its prime mission in 2010 and early 2011. Its
reactivation in September followed 31 months in hibernation.
NEOWISE will continue to detect asteroids and comets. The observations will be
automatically sent to the clearinghouse for solar system bodies, the Minor
Planet Center in Cambridge, Mass., for comparison against the known catalog of
solar system objects and to determine orbit if the object is not known. A
community of professional and amateur astronomers will provide follow-up
observations, establishing firm orbits for the previously unseen objects.
Infrared sensors, similar to the cameras on NEOWISE, are a powerful tool for
discovering, cataloging and understanding the asteroid population. Some of the
objects about which NEOWISE will be collecting data could become candidates for
NASA's announced asteroid initiative, which will be the first mission to
identify, capture and relocate an asteroid for astronauts to explore. The
initiative represents an unprecedented technological feat that will lead to new
scientific discoveries and technological capabilities that will help protect our
home planet and achieve the goal of sending humans to an asteroid by 2025.
JPL manages the project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
The Space Dynamics Laboratory in Logan, Utah, built the science instrument. Ball
Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colo., built the spacecraft. Science
operations and data processing take place at the Infrared Processing and
Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Caltech
manages JPL for NASA.
An image of asteroid 2013 YP139, taken by NEOWISE, is available at:
More information about NEOWISE is available online at: http://www.nasa.gov/wise
Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. supports critical missions for national agencies such as the Department of Defense, NASA, NOAA and other U.S. government and commercial entities. The company develops and manufactures spacecraft, advanced instruments and sensors, components, data exploitation systems and RF solutions for strategic, tactical and scientific applications. For more information, visit www.ballaerospace.com.
Ball Corporation supplies innovative, sustainable packaging solutions for beverage, food and household products customers, as well as aerospace and other technologies and services primarily for the U.S. government. Ball Corporation and its subsidiaries employ 15,000 people worldwide and reported 2012 sales of more than $8.7 billion. For more information, visit www.ball.com, or connect with us on Facebook or Twitter.
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