Like a wise old owl peering into the night, NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer will uncover hidden cosmic creatures, including the coolest stars, dark asteroids and the most luminous galaxies.
Text: Celestial Treasure Hunt
Text: Wide Field Infrared Survey Explorer
Text: Amy Mainser, WISE Deputy Project Scientist
WISE is the Wide Field Infrared Survey Explorer. WISE is going to find hundreds of millions of objects spread over the entire sky and for us, that's like a treasure map.
We think there are about as many grains on this beach as there are stars in the entire Universe. So the task of finding rare objects in the universe that we're interested in requires the maps that WISE is going to make.
It's a bit like using this metal detector here to try to find gold coins that are buried in all this sand.
Wise consists of a very modest size telescope about 40 centimeters in diameter that would sort of fit under your arm.
Text: All Sky Survey
Wise is going to survey the entire sky in four infrared wavelengths over six months.
All sky surveys are one of the basic tools that astronomers use to find interesting and unusual objects. It's sort of like the GPS of astronomy.
One of the most exciting things that you'd expect to find with an all sky survey like WISE is the unexpected. We expect surprises; things that we have no idea about today.
Text : Near Earth Objects
One of the projects WISE is going to be doing is studying the population of Near Earth Objects. These are asteroids and comets whose orbits get close to Earth's orbit. Now, this doesn't necessarily mean that they're going to hit the Earth but we do want to pay some attention to them.
With WISE we'll be able to tell something about how many there are, what their sizes are and what they're made of; whether they're soft and crumbly like this ball of sand or solid rock like this rock right here.
In visible light, an object that's small and shiny reflects the same amount of sunlight as an asteroid that's big and dark. But when we look with an infrared telescope we're seeing heat that's emitted from more sides of the asteroid. So we get a better true measurement of the object's size and this is important because it allows us to tell whether or not the object is this big or an object that's this big.
Text: Luminous Galaxies
The maps that WISE is going to be generating can be used to find all sorts of rare and unusual objects. One of these objects is the most luminous galaxy in the entire universe, but finding it is a lot like trying to find one particular grain of sand on this entire beach.
Text: Brown Dwarf
One of the other rare types of objects that WISE may find is possibly the nearest star to our sun. We think that there is a good chance that our sun actually does have a closer neighbor than we already know about and it's very likely to be a cool type of star called a "brown dwarf." The temperature may be room temperature or even colder – maybe as cold as an iceberg, say.
With WISE we expect the unexpected. We're looking for new surprises and new discoveries. With this exciting survey, we're going to be finding a treasure trove of discoveries that astronomers are going to mine for decades to come.
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory