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NASA'S Neowise Completes Scan For Asteroids & Comets

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      NASA Press Release
      February 2, 2011



      WASHINGTON - NASA's NEOWISE mission has completed its survey of small
      bodies, asteroids and comets, in our solar system. The mission's discoveries
      of previously unknown objects include 20 comets, more than 33,000 asteroids
      in the main belt between Mars and Jupiter, and 134 near-Earth objects
      (NEOs). The NEOs are asteroids and comets with orbits that come within 28
      million miles of Earth's path around the sun.

      NEOWISE is an enhancement of the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or
      WISE, mission that launched in December 2009. WISE scanned the entire
      celestial sky in infrared light about 1.5 times. It captured more than 2.7
      million images of objects in space, ranging from faraway galaxies to
      asteroids and comets close to Earth.

      In early October 2010, after completing its prime science mission, the
      spacecraft ran out of frozen coolant that keeps its instrumentation cold.
      However, two of its four infrared cameras remained operational. These two
      channels were still useful for asteroid hunting, so NASA extended the
      NEOWISE portion of the WISE mission by four months, with the primary purpose
      of hunting for more asteroids and comets, and to finish one complete scan of
      the main asteroid belt.

      ³Even just one year of observations from the NEOWISE project has
      significantly increased our catalog of data on NEOs and the other small
      bodies of the solar systems,² said Lindley Johnson, NASA¹s program executive
      for the NEO Observation Program.
      Now that NEOWISE has successfully completed a full sweep of the main
      asteroid belt, the WISE spacecraft will go into hibernation mode and remain
      in polar orbit around the Earth, where it could be called back into service
      in the future.

      In addition to discovering new asteroids and comets, NEOWISE also confirmed
      the presence of objects in the main belt that already had been detected. In
      just one year, it observed about 153,000 rocky bodies out of approximately
      500,000 known objects. Those include the 33,000 that NEOWISE discovered.

      NEOWISE also observed known objects closer and farther to us than the main
      belt, including roughly 2,000 asteroids that orbit along with Jupiter,
      hundreds of NEOs and more than 100 comets.

      These observations will be key to determining the objects' sizes and
      compositions. Visible-light data alone reveals how much sunlight reflects
      off an asteroid, whereas infrared data is much more directly related to the
      object's size. By combining visible and infrared measurements, astronomers
      also can learn about the compositions of the rocky bodies -- for example,
      whether they are solid or crumbly. The findings will lead to a much-improved
      picture of the various asteroid populations.

      NEOWISE took longer to survey the whole asteroid belt than WISE took to scan
      the entire sky because most of the asteroids are moving in the same
      direction around the sun as the spacecraft moves while it orbits the Earth.
      The spacecraft field of view had to catch up to, and lap, the movement of
      the asteroids in order to see them all.

      "You can think of Earth and the asteroids as racehorses moving along in a
      track," said Amy Mainzer, the principal investigator of NEOWISE at NASA's
      Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "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

      NEOWISE data on the asteroid and comet orbits are catalogued at the
      NASA-funded International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center, a
      clearinghouse for information about all solar system bodies at the
      Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass. The science team
      is analyzing the infrared observations now and will publish new findings in
      the coming months.

      When combined with WISE observations, NEOWISE data will aid in the discovery
      of the closest dim stars, called brown dwarfs. These observations have the
      potential to reveal a brown dwarf even closer to us than our closest known
      star, Proxima Centauri, if such an object does exist. Likewise, if there is
      a hidden gas-giant planet in the outer reaches of our solar system, data
      from WISE and NEO-WISE could detect it.

      The first batch of observations from the WISE mission will be available to
      the public and astronomical community in April.
      "WISE has unearthed a mother lode of amazing sources, and we're having a
      great time figuring out their nature," said Edward (Ned) Wright, the
      principal investigator of WISE at UCLA.

      JPL manages WISE for NASA's Science Mission Directorate at the agency's
      headquarters in Washington. The mission was competitively selected under
      NASA's Explorers Program, which NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in
      Greenbelt, Md., manages. The Space Dynamics Laboratory in Logan, Utah, built
      the science instrument, and Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder,
      Colo., built the spacecraft. Science operations and data processing take
      place at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California
      Institute of Technology in Pasadena. JPL manages NEOWISE for NASA's
      Planetary Sciences Division. The mission's data processing also takes place
      at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center.

      For more information about WISE, visit:



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