When viewed in infrared light, NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, shows a giant nebula around Lambda Orionis, inflating the constellation Orion’s head to huge proportions. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA
Today, the NASA WISE Space Telescope project is taking the first major step in meeting its primary goal of delivering the mission’s trove of objects to astronomers. Data from the first 57 percent of the sky surveyed is accessible through an online public archive. The complete survey, with improved data processing, will be made available in the spring of 2012.
The mission’s nearby discoveries included 20 comets, more than 33,000 asteroids between Mars and Jupiter, and 133 near-Earth objects (NEOs), which are those asteroids and comets with orbits that come within 28 million miles (about 45 million kilometers) of Earth’s path around the sun.
It found 17 new comets and 94 cool, diminutive stars known as brown dwarfs. In all, W.I.S.E. detected more than 350 million objects including 155,782 within the solar system.
WISE launched into space on Dec. 14, 2009 on a mission to map the entire sky in infrared light with greatly improved sensitivity and resolution over its predecessors. From its polar orbit, it scanned the skies about one-and-a-half times while collecting images taken at four infrared wavelengths of light. It took more than 2.7 million images over the course of its mission, capturing objects ranging from faraway galaxies to asteroids relatively close to Earth.