WASHINGTON -- NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or Wise, is
chilled out, sporting a sunshade and getting ready to roll. NASA's
newest spacecraft is scheduled to roll to the pad on Friday, Nov. 20,
its last stop before launching into space to survey the entire sky in
Wise is scheduled to launch no earlier than 9:09 a.m. EST on Dec. 9
from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. It will circle Earth
over the poles, scanning the entire sky one-and-a-half times in nine
months. The mission will uncover hidden cosmic objects, including the
coolest stars, dark asteroids and the most luminous galaxies.
"The eyes of Wise are a vast improvement over those of past infrared
surveys," said Edward "Ned" Wright, the principal investigator for
the mission at UCLA. "We will find millions of objects that have
never been seen before."
The mission will map the entire sky at four infrared wavelengths with
sensitivity hundreds to hundreds of thousands of times greater than
its predecessors, cataloging hundreds of millions of objects. The
data will serve as navigation charts for other missions, pointing
them to the most interesting targets. NASA's Hubble and Spitzer Space
Telescopes, the European Space Agency's Herschel Space Observatory,
and NASA's upcoming Sofia and James Webb Space Telescope will follow
up on Wise finds.
"This is an exciting time for space telescopes," said Jon Morse,
NASA's Astrophysics Division director at NASA Headquarters in
Washington. "Many of the telescopes will work together, each
contributing different pieces to some of the most intriguing puzzles
in our universe."
Visible light is just one slice of the universe's electromagnetic
rainbow. Infrared light, which humans can't see, has longer
wavelengths and is good for seeing objects that are cold, dusty or
far away. In our solar system, Wise is expected to find hundreds of
thousands of cool asteroids, including hundreds that pass relatively
close to Earth's path. Wise's infrared measurements will provide
better estimates of asteroid sizes and compositions -- important
information for understanding more about potentially hazardous
impacts on Earth.
"With infrared, we can find the dark asteroids other surveys have
missed and learn about the whole population. Are they mostly big,
small, fluffy or hard?" said Peter Eisenhardt, the Wise project
scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
Wise also will find the coolest of the "failed" stars or brown dwarfs.
Scientists speculate it is possible that a cool star lurks right
under our noses, closer to us than our nearest known star, Proxima
Centauri, which is four light-years away. If so, Wise will easily
pick up its glow.
The mission also will spot dusty nests of stars and swirling
planet-forming disks, and may find the most luminous galaxy in the
To sense the infrared glow of stars and galaxies, the Wise spacecraft
cannot give off any detectable infrared light of its own. This is
accomplished by chilling the telescope and detectors to ultra-cold
temperatures. The coldest of Wise's detectors will operate at below 8
Kelvin, or minus 445 Fahrenheit.
"Wise is chilled out," said William Irace, the project manager at JPL.
"We've finished freezing the hydrogen that fills two tanks
surrounding the science instrument. We're ready to explore the
universe in infrared."
JPL manages Wise for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
The mission was competitively selected under NASA's Explorers Program
managed by the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. The
science instrument was built by the Space Dynamics Laboratory in
Logan, Utah, and the spacecraft was built by Ball Aerospace &
Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colo. Science operations and data
processing take place at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center
at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.
More information about the Wise mission is available online at:
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