NASA Releases First Batch Of WISE Imagery

By Frank Morring, Jr.
April 20, 2011

Professional and amateur astronomers are likely to spend decades poring over a massive data-dump from NASA that represents 57% of the take from the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission, which imaged the entire sky from polar orbit.

There are literally millions of objects in the survey data that have never been detected before, as well as spectacular images of objects at four infrared wavelengths. In all, WISE collected more than 2.7 million images as it surveyed all of the sky at least once and another half of it again before the mission was terminated.

Launched on Dec. 14, 2009, WISE operated until early February, continuing to search for asteroids and comets in the main asteroid belt even after its frozen hydrogen coolant expired.

Among discoveries within the Solar System alone were 20 comets, more than 33,000 asteroids in the main belt, and another 133 near-Earth objects that pass within 28 million mi. of Earth’s orbit.

A final data release is scheduled for the spring of 2012, when the entire survey, with improved data processing, will be posted on the Internet. The preliminary release is available at

“The mission is not yet over,” says Fengchuan Liu, WISE project manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “The real treasure is the final catalog available a year from now, which will have twice as many sources, covering the entire sky and reaching even deeper into the universe.”

Built by the Space Dynamics Laboratory in Logan, Utah, and mounted on a Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. spacecraft, the WISE instrument collected images in 3.4-, 4.6-, 12- and 22-micron wavelengths. Imagery in the shorter wavelengths generally represents stars, while the longer two depict warm dust.

Astronomers will use the survey to target objects for closer study with other spaceborne infrared telescopes, such as the European Space Agency’s Herschel far-infrared space telescope, and to spot statistical trends in its comprehensive catalog of infrared objects.

“WISE is providing the newest-generation ‘address book’ of the infrared universe with the precise location and brightness of hundreds of millions of celestial objects,” stated Roc Cutri, lead scientist for WISE data processing at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech.