A Hot Piece of Hardware: NASA’s New Orbiter Will Map the Entire Sky in Infrared
Stars and other astronomical phenomena radiate across the electromagnetic spectrum, on both sides of the puny band of visible light that the human eye can pick up. NASA’s newest toy, set for a Friday launch into space, will map the infrared portion of that radiation—and do it across the entire sky.
The Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, has been under construction since 2006. The satellite will spend six months mapping the entire sky in the infrared, after which it will make a second, three-month pass to further refine the mapping [Universe Today]. Stars, galaxies, comets, and other objects will fall under the explorer’s purview.
WISE is a successor to the Infrared Astronomy Satellite, or IRAS, which was launched in 1983 and made the first heat maps of the sky. And it is a trailblazer for the giant James Webb Space Telescope due in 2014. But whereas IRAS had 62 pixels in its camera, WISE has 4 million [The New York Times]. With so much imaging power, WISE could find millions of new infrared sources in space. That includes far-off phenomena like ultraluminous galaxies breeding new stars, whose faint heat WISE could pick up in the infrared range.
Besides hopefully finding scientific curiosities like brown dwarves and ultraluminous galaxies, the satellite will also watch out for our home planet. WISE will catalog the locations and sizes of near-Earth objects such as asteroids and comets that could threaten Earth [AP].