Feeds

NASA's NEOWISE wraps asteroid belt survey

Lots of new heavenly bodies for our viewing pleasure

The Power of One Infographic

NASA's Near Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, aka NEOWISE, has wrapped up its survey of our solar system's "small bodies, asteroids and comets".

Over the past four months, it has clocked up a plethora of previously undiscovered objects, including "20 comets (see pic, details here), more than 33,000 asteroids in the main belt between Mars and Jupiter, and 134 near-Earth objects (NEOs)", the agency explains.

Montage of comets discovered by NEOWISE. Pic: NASA

NASA's montage of comets discovered by NEOWISE.

NEOWISE is an extension of the WISE mission, which launched in December 2009, tasked with mapping the entire sky in search of "millions of hidden objects, including asteroids, 'failed' stars and powerful galaxies".

In October last year, after capturing over 2.7 million images, WISE ran out of the frozen-hydrogen cryogen which kept its IR detectors cool. However, since two instruments could still operate at a relatively mild -203°C, NASA decided it could usefully turn its attention to objects closer to home.

That job included a complete sweep of the asteroid belt, which actually took longer than a complete WISE sky survey. Since the spacecraft orbits at an altitude of 525km, passing over the poles 15 times a day and in the same direction as the asteroid belt bodies orbit the sun, it was obliged to "catch up to, and lap, the movement of the asteroids in order to see them all".

Amy Mainzer, principal NEOWISE investigator at NASA's Jet Propulsion lab, explained: "You can think of Earth and the asteroids as racehorses moving along in a track. We're moving along together around the sun, but the main belt asteroids are like horses on the outer part of the track. They take longer to orbit than us, so we eventually lap them."

The first batch of WISE mission data will be released in April. The spacecraft, meanwhile, will be put into hibernation and "could be called back into service in the future".

NASA has more here. ®

Eight steps to building an HP BladeSystem

More from The Register

next story
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 claimed lives of HIV/AIDS cure scientists
Researchers, advocates, health workers among those on shot-down plane
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Mwa-ha-ha-ha! Eccentric billionaire Musk gets his PRIVATE SPACEPORT
In the Lone Star State, perhaps appropriately enough
MARS NEEDS OCEANS to support life - and so do exoplanets
Just being in the Goldilocks zone doesn't mean there'll be anyone to eat the porridge
Diary note: Pluto's close-up is a year from … now!
New Horizons is less than a year from the dwarf planet
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
Forty-five years ago: FOOTPRINTS FOUND ON MOON
NASA won't be back any time soon, sadly
prev story

Whitepapers

Reducing security risks from open source software
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.