NASA Spacecraft Reactivated to Hunt for Asteroids

A NASA spacecraft that discovered and characterized tens of thousands of asteroids throughout the solar system before being placed in hibernation will return to service for three more years starting in September, assisting the agency in its effort to identify the population of potentially hazardous near-Earth objects, as well as those suitable for asteroid exploration missions.

The Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) will be revived next month with the goal of discovering and characterizing near-Earth objects (NEOs), space rocks that can be found orbiting within 45 million kilometers (28 million miles) from Earth’s path around the sun. NASA anticipates WISE will use its 16-inch (40-centimeter) telescope and infrared cameras to discover about 150 previously unknown NEOs and characterize the size, albedo and thermal properties of about 2,000 others — including some of which could be candidates for the agency’s recently announced asteroid initiative.

“The WISE mission achieved its mission’s goals and as NEOWISE extended the science even further in its survey of asteroids. NASA is now extending that record of success, which will enhance our ability to find potentially hazardous asteroids, and support the new asteroid initiative,” said John Grunsfeld, NASA’s associate administrator for science in Washington. “Reactivating WISE is an excellent example of how we are leveraging existing capabilities across the agency to achieve our goal.”

NASA’s asteroid initiative will be the first mission to identify, capture and relocate an asteroid. It represents an unprecedented technological feat that will lead to new scientific discoveries and technological capabilities that will help protect our home planet. The asteroid initiative brings together the best of NASA’s science, technology and human exploration efforts to achieve President Obama’s goal of sending humans to an asteroid by 2025.

The Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer scanned the entire sky in infrared light, revealing cool stars, planetary construction zones and the brightest galaxies in the universe. The survey consisted of more than a million images, from which hundreds of millions of astronomical objects were cataloged, providing a vast storehouse of knowledge about the solar system, the Milky Way and the universe. Credit: NASA/JPL

The Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer scanned the entire sky in infrared light, revealing cool stars, planetary construction zones and the brightest galaxies in the universe. The survey consisted of more than a million images, from which hundreds of millions of astronomical objects were cataloged, providing a vast storehouse of knowledge about the solar system, the Milky Way and the universe. Credit: NASA/JPL.

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