News

SDL works on space instrument

By Kim Burgess
Herald Journal
May 21, 2009
Artist’s rendition of WISE

NASA illustration
An artist's rendition of the Wide‐field Infrared Survey Explorer, an orbiting camera designed to map the entire night sky.

A new instrument built at Utah State University’s Space Dynamics Laboratory will help scientists see deep into the universe in search of the origins of star systems.

This week, SOL announced the completion of a $72‐million NASA instrument known as the Wide‐field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). The project, which took five years to finish, aims to create a map of the entire night sky.

The 6‐foot‐tall machine will use infrared beams to survey space and locate brown dwarf stars, asteroids and the brightest galaxies.

According to Doug Lemon, director of SOL, the WISE instrument will collect “millions of images from which hundreds of millions of astronomical objects will be catalogued.”

WISE is scheduled to begin its mission Nov. 2, when it will blast off from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base. Once in orbit, it will take pictures every II seconds, producing an image of the sky within six months.

With 500 hundred times the infrared sensitivity of any similar instrument, WISE will measure the diameters of over 100,000 asteroids in the solar system and provide a complete inventory of nearby young stars as well as of the debris associated with planetary systems.

This data will help NASA researchers decide where to focus the powerful James Webb Space Telescope, which is set to replace the aging Hubble in 2013.

The WISE’s minimum mission time is seven months, though the trip may last 13 months depending on the life of its fuel source – hydrogen frozen to nearly absolute zero.

After WISE exhausts its fuel supply, it will remain in orbit for five to six years and then burn up in the atmosphere.

© 2009 The Herald Journal