Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer

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Top Ten WISE Factoids


1. Everything But the Kitchen Sink

WISE will see practically everything but the kitchen sink. It will map the entire sky in infrared light, picking up the glow of everything from nearby asteroids to distant galaxies billions of light-years away. The space telescope will see hundreds of millions of objects -- enough to make astronomers dizzy (in a good way). Most of these objects will be making their grand debut to humans, since they've never been seen before.

2. Our Closest Star?

The mission is expected to find some chart toppers on the cosmic scene. It is likely to find the nearest "failed" star, or brown dwarf -- maybe even one closer to us than our closest known star, Proxima Centauri, which is about four light-years away. If WISE does find our new closest star, the tiny system might be the first visited by future space-traveling humans! Brown dwarfs are thought to host planetary systems, but it's not clear whether they can support life.

3. Ultra Cool Stars

WISE is also likely to find the coolest brown dwarfs. We're not talking about orbs decked out in sunglasses and leather, but chilly bodies, possibly as cold as minus 100 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 73 degrees Celsius). That's way colder than even an iceberg. Brown dwarfs form like stars, but they never get hot and dense enough to power up with nuclear energy. After they form, they just continue to cool off forever.

4. The Most Luminous Galaxy of All

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the most luminous galaxy of all? WISE might answer this question -- it is expected to find the most luminous galaxy in the universe, a galaxy bursting with light and energy. The space telescope will see tons and tons of ultraluminous infrared galaxies in the throes of their dusty, cataclysmic formation billions of years ago.

5. Ninja-like Asteroids

WISE will hunt down the blackest of asteroids -- ones that are invisible to optical telescopes. It is expected to detect hundreds of thousands of asteroids in our main asteroid belt, including the dark, ninja-like ones that have escaped detection.

6. Picking up Glow of Near-Earth Objects

The infrared explorer will also pick up the glow of hundreds of never-before seen asteroids and comets that swing relatively close to Earth. These near-Earth objects could potentially pose a threat to Earth, but most likely they will just pass by.

7. How Big and Fluffy Is That Space Rock?

WISE will tell us how big near-Earth objects and main belt asteroids are, and help us understand their composition. Knowing if asteroids are big, small, fluffy or hard will help inform future strategies for mitigating potential threats to Earth.

8. Improving on the Past

WISE's predecessor dates back more than a quarter of a century -- to 1983. Called the Infrared Astronomical Satellite, the mission mapped the whole sky in infrared. That map is still being used today, but WISE will dramatically improve on it with next-generation infrared detectors. Whereas the Infrared Astronomical Satellite's cameras had a total of only 62 pixels, WISE's four cameras each have a million. WISE will find objects faster and see them in more detail.

9. Seriously Chilled Out

WISE is seriously cool! The instrument is chilled to about minus 261 degrees Celsius (minus 438 degrees Fahrenheit ) inside a donut-shaped tank filled with frozen hydrogen. The cold temperatures get rid of the infrared glow from the telescope and detectors, so they can see the infrared light from faint objects. The coldest detectors will be below minus 265 degrees Celsius (minus 445 degrees Fahrenheit), which is slightly warmer than the coldest temperature theoretically attainable. Before the telescope is launched, liquid helium is used to freeze the hydrogen.

10. Round and Round It Goes

WISE will map the whole sky in just six months. The infrared surveyor will always orbit over the poles of Earth above the line where day turns to night, called the terminator. This ensures that WISE's solar panels continuously soak up the sun, while the telescope snaps images of the sky, mapping out a 360-degree strip each orbit. As the Earth goes around the sun, the survey continues to map out strips of images overhead, sweeping across the whole sky in only six months.

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Images

Science instrument on NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer

This image shows the bottle-like tank that houses the science instrument on NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, mission (some say it resembles the Star Wars robot R2-D2). This tank, called a cryostat, contains frozen hydrogen that chills the instrument. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Dynamics Lab

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Artist concept of twin brown dwarfs

A pair of dim brown dwarfs is illustrated here in this artist's conception. These "failed" stars are hard to see with visible light, but WISE can spot their warm, infrared glow. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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Antennae colliding galaxy

WISE's predecessor is the 1983 Infrared Astronomical Satellite mission, often referred to by its acronym IRAS. WISE's next-generation technology will allow it to see hundreds of millions of objects, whereas IRAS saw hundreds of thousands. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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In-depth Information

WISE mission website