NASA Reactivates WISE in Search For Deadly Asteroids


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NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) space telescope ran out of coolant in the fall of 2010. Though the telescope was used for a few more months (the NEOWISE mission), it was officially retired from service in February 2011. Now, NASA has announced that WISE will get a second lease on life later this year.

WISE will be reactivated in September to help NASA find and catalogue potentially dangerous near-Earth asteroids. The telescope will be in service for three more years, searching the infrared sky for asteroids within 28 million miles of Earth's orbit. NASA hopes the satellite can find at lease 150 currently undiscovered near-Earth objects (NEOs).

"The data collected by NEOWISE two years ago have proven to be a gold mine for the discovery and characterization of the NEO population," said Lindley Johnson, a NEOWISE program executive at NASA. "It is important that we accumulate as much of this type of data as possible while the WISE spacecraft remains a viable asset."

NASA recently reviewed its asteroid discovery and capture missions, which seek to find every near-Earth object potentially hazardous to the Earth, as well as capture an asteroid with the plan to study it. The missions are part of NASA's initiative to send humans to Mars by the 2030s.

WISE has already been instrumental in discovering and classifying around 158,000 asteroid-like objects in our solar system. Its discoveries during just the NEOWISE mission include 21 comets and 135 near-Earth objects.

(Image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech)