May 31, 2020

01.02.2011: NEOWISE: Mission Accomplished.

An orbiting sentinel recently completed its secondary science mission. WISE, NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, recently completed an all sky survey for Near Earth Objects (NEOs). Launched in December 2009, WISE’s primary mission was an all sky survey in the infrared spectrum.

Placed in a polar Earth orbit, WISE revolutionized our understanding of infrared astronomy, and found lots of asteroids and comets in the process. Its coolant ran out in October 2010, but it found new life as NEOWISE, and the hunt was on. Several of its instruments remain viable for the kind of work that NEOWISE is intended for; searching for potentially hazardous asteroids. In the past year, WISE has discovered 33,000 asteroids, watching for their tell-tale shift against the background of stars as they move in their lazy orbits about the sun. WISE is now in standby mode, but could be called back into service as mission objectives permit. Interestingly, the data from NEOWISE will supplant the original WISE survey in the hunt for what could prove to be an interesting revelation; the discovery of any potential brown dwarfs in the solar neighborhood. And no, we’re not talking about a half baked 2012 apocalypse world… The jury is still out on whether a large gas gaint or brown dwarf may lurk in the depths of the outer solar system. Now that would be a discovery…WISE data will be available to the general public for perusal this April.

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