June 24, 2019

19.04.10- The Rise of WISE.

NASA has a new orbiting infrared eye on the universe. WISE, the Wide-field Infrared Space Explorer, is now open for business, and returning some fairly cool images. Launched out of Vandenberg AFB on December 12th of last year, the telescope is now parked in a sun-synchronous orbit at an inclination of 97.5° degrees. This allows WISE to keep its solar panels in a sunward orientation, while the telescope itself looks off at right angles to the Sun. This will also allow it to image continuous swaths of the sky as it orbits the Earth. WISE sports a 16” 40cm gold-plated mirror (talk about tricked out!) optimized for IR work and will conduct an all-sky survey with an unprecedented resolution across its 47 arc minute field of view. A successor to the IRAS and Spitzer, which ran out of coolant last year, WISE has an on-board supply on frozen hydrogen that should sustain it for a 10 month mission. To perform its mission, WISE must be cooled to -430° F, or about 15 Kelvins. It will also narrow in on possible targets for the James Webb Space telescope to be launched in 2014. JWST is much touted as the “successor to Hubble” but will actually be optimized for work in the infrared as well. IR work is virtually impossible to do from ground based telescopes, due to the absorption of IR wavelengths by water vapor in our atmosphere. Already, WISE has discovered comets, Near Earth objects, and opened a new window on nebulae and star formation… more discoveries to come!