Eyes of WISE: NASA scope made by SDL completes sky survey
By Kim Burgess
The Herald Journal
July 17, 2010
An innovative NASA telescope constructed at Utah State University's Space Dynamics Lab will complete its first survey of the sky today - a project that has already led to the discovery of 25,000 asteroids.
Launched into orbit in December, the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) has the ability to see previously undetectable celestial objects using infrared sensors that can pick up dim light.
The 1.3 million images it has produced so far include distant galaxies and brown dwarf stars, as well as 100,000 asteroids, which mainly occupy an area between Mars and Jupiter. About 90 of these space rocks travel "near" Earth, meaning roughly 30 million miles from the planet.
SDL employees are thrilled to see their project bearing such spectacular fruit.
John Elwell, WISE program manager at the lab, said some have hardly been able to tear themselves away from their computer screens.
"Every day is exciting," he added. "I'm proud that such a fundamental contribution to science comes out of Logan, Utah."
For the next three months, WISE will map half of the sky again, giving astronomers a look at what's changed.
The mission scans strips of space as WISE orbits around the poles following Earth's day-night line - meaning that as the planet moves around the sun, new areas come into WISE's field of view.
It has taken six months, or the amount of time for Earth to travel halfway around the sun, for the mission to complete one full scan of the entire sky.
"The eyes of WISE have not blinked since launch," said William Irace, the mission's project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "Both our telescope and spacecraft have performed flawlessly and have imaged every corner of our universe, just as we planned."
WISE's work will come to an end when its block of solid hydrogen coolant, needed to chill the infrared detectors, runs out, probably in November.
Images from $320-million device will help guide future missions like the James Webb Space Telescope to areas that warrant more research.
The first release of WISE data, covering about 80 percent of the sky, will be delivered in May of next year.
To view more images from WISE, go to www.nasa.gov/wise and http://wise.astro.ucla.edu.
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