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NASA's new WISE 'eye' to search heavens for undiscovered objects

By dpa
The Earth Times
December 08, 2009

Washington — NASA's newest “eye” to be launched Wednesday is a satellite equipped with unprecedented infrared sensitivity to scope out cosmic objects unseen by other cameras. The Wide‐field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, is to launch at 1409 GMT from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Over the next nine months in orbit around the north and south poles, the satellite is to scan the entire sky one and a half times seeking out the “coolest stars, dark asteroids and the most luminous galaxies,” NASA said.

What sets this “eye” apart from other space cameras such as the Hubble telescope and deep‐space probes is its ability to read four infrared wavelengths “with sensitivity hundreds to hundreds of thousands of times greater than its predecessors,” NASA's Pasadena‐ based Jet Propulsion Laboratory said.

The resulting pictures will serve as navigation charts for the big space cameras like the Hubble, NASA's Spitzer space telescope, the European Space Agency's Herschel Space Observatory and NASA's upcoming Sofia and James Webb Space Telescope.

“With infrared, we can find the dark asteroids other surveys have missed and learn about the whole population. Are they mostly big, small, fluffy or hard?” asked Peter Eisenhardt, the WISE project scientist at the Jet Propulsion Lab.

Brown dwarfs, as failed stars are known, or cool stars, could possibly be lurking “right under our noses,” NASA said, perhaps nearer than Proxima Centauri, the nearest known star to Earth's own solar system.

To keep WISE sensitive to infrared light, it cannot give out any infrared rays of its own, so its detectors are to be chilled to ultra‐cold temperatures ‐ below 8 degrees Kelvin, or minus 445 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Wise is chilled out,” project manager William Irace said.

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