NEOWISE mission discovers 72 new near-earth objects

April 8, 2016 | Maine News Online

Since 2013, NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) has discovered 72 new Near Earth Objects. The NEOWISE mission was launched in 2009. Among the 72 NEOs observed by the team, there are eight objects that are classified as potentially hazardous asteroids.

The explorer is helping scientists to study space rocks detected earlier by ground-based telescopes. The spacecraft has successfully classified 439 near-earth objects (NEOs), a term meant to describe comets and asteroids.

Amy Mainzer, NEOWISE principal investigator, mentioned, “NEOWISE discovers large, dark, near-Earth objects, complementing our network of ground-based telescopes operating at visible-light wavelengths. On average, these objects are many hundreds of meters across”.

James Bauer, the mission’s deputy principal investigator at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, was of the view that the NEOWISE data studies the distribution of lighter and darker-colored material and hence, provides a better understanding on the origins of the NEOs. An asteroid is classified as an NEO when its distance from the sun during its nearest approach is less than 1.3 times the average earth-sun distance.

The NEOWISE spacecraft originally known as Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) was put in hibernation in February 2011 after its primary mission of creating infrared maps of earth sky was completed. It was reactivated in September 2013 and was given the name NEOWISE and a new aim to identify and characterize the population of potentially hazardous near-earth objects.

NEOWISE has studied more than 19,000 asteroids and comets at infrared wavelengths. According to NASA’s Near Earth Object Program, no big space rocks will earth anytime soon. But experts mentioned that smaller space rock can slip by undetected. The best example for the same is Chelyabinsk. There was no warning before a meteor streaked across the sky over Russia on February 15, 2013 and exploded and injured hundreds of people.