November 26, 2009

NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer


WISE is a NASA-funded Explorer mission that will provide a vast storehouse of knowledge about the solar system, the Milky Way, and the Universe. Among the objects WISE will study are asteroids, the coolest and dimmest stars, and the most luminous galaxies.

WISE is an unmanned satellite carrying an infrared-sensitive telescope that will image the entire sky.

* The spacecraft is 2.85 m (9.35 feet) tall, 2.0 m (6.56 feet) wide, 1.73 m (5.68 feet) deep
* There are 4 infrared sensitive detector arrays, each with 1024 X 1024 pixels (1 megapixel array). The near infrared bands (3.4 and 4.6 microns) use Mercury-Cadmium-Telluride (MCT). The mid-infrared bands (12 and 22 microns) use Arsenic-doped Silicon (Si:As).

WISE is expected to find about 100,000 new asteroids in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and hundreds of asteroids that pass close to Earth. It will be especially good at seeing dark objects that are nearly impossible to find using existing ground-based telescopes, as the objects radiate heat that WISE will see.

The telescope will also be able to spot Jupiter-sized objects up to 60,000 astronomical units away (1 AU equals the Earth-sun distance). The distribution of comet paths has suggested that a very large planet could be lurking at 25,000 AU, says WISE project scientist Peter Eisenhardt of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.




NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or Wise, is chilled out, sporting a sunshade and getting ready to roll. [this link to the NASA news conference] NASA's newest spacecraft is scheduled to roll to the pad on Friday, Nov. 20, its last stop before launching into space to survey the entire sky in infrared light.

Wise is scheduled to launch no earlier than 9:09 a.m. EST on Dec. 9 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. It will circle Earth over the poles, scanning the entire sky one-and-a-half times in nine months. The mission will uncover hidden cosmic objects, including the coolest stars, dark asteroids and the most luminous galaxies.

"The eyes of Wise are a vast improvement over those of past infrared surveys," said Edward "Ned" Wright, the principal investigator for the mission at UCLA. "We will find millions of objects that have never been seen before."

The mission will map the entire sky at four infrared wavelengths with sensitivity hundreds to hundreds of thousands of times greater than its predecessors, cataloging hundreds of millions of objects. The data will serve as navigation charts for other missions, pointing them to the most interesting targets. NASA's Hubble and Spitzer Space Telescopes, the European Space Agency's Herschel Space Observatory, and NASA's upcoming Sofia and James Webb Space Telescope will follow up on Wise finds

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