Thursday, February 17, 2011

How WISE I Am ... Erm, WAS ... No, WILL Be... Yes! All Three

Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) is a NASA infrared-wavelength astronomical space telescope launched on 14 December 2009, and put into hibernation February 1, 2011. The US$320 million mission launched an Earth-orbiting satellite with a 40 cm (16 in) diameter infrared telescope, which performed an all-sky astronomical survey with images in 3, 5, 12 and 22 μm wavelength range bands, over 10 months. The initial mission length was limited by its hydrogen coolant, but a secondary post-crygenic mission continued for four more months.

By October 2010 WISE hydrogen coolant and original NASA funding ran out, and the proposed WISE warm mission, using remaining functionality, was not approved by NASA.Rather than abandon the spacecraft, the NASA Planetary division stepped in with funding for a shorter fourth month mission extension called NEOWISE, to search for small solar system bodies close to Earth's orbit.

WISE served as a replacement for the Wide Field Infrared Explorer (WIRE), which failed within hours of reaching orbit in March 1999. In certain measurements, WISE is over 1,000 times more sensitive than prior infrared space surveys such as IRAS, AKARI, and COBE's DIRBE. The principal investigator for WISE, said the telescope found dozens of previously unknown asteroids every day.Overall, over 33,500 new asteroids and comets were discovered, and over 154,000 solar system objects were observed by WISE as of October 2010.

Click here to read more about it.

Steve here. Got all that? Good, cuz here comes my rant:

There has been FAR too much "news" of late about the "alleged" planet in our Solar System's Oort cloud, 1500 times farther from the Sun than the Earth, hypothetically sending comets into the Solar system of which it is a member, albeit a distant one.

Aw ... MALARKEY! That's right folks, we have a full-blown, hide the kids and dogs, Code Red Malarkey Alert.  Stock up on the duct tape and plastic sheets, the weather forecasts a strong possibility of "Science" "Journalists" typing with neither a strong background in Science, nor Journalism. And hail as large as baseballs. Bimbo at ... I mean "News" at 11.

The GOOD news is that there is real Astrophysics being done, and those who can explain this well.

The WISE data will settle this one way or the other, as soon as this April when the first data from our old now-dead friend is released, or in the next 2 years when the data from this wonderful observatory is fully examined. So, relax, and check out the REAL deal on all this:

Phil Plait debunks the "scare" at Bad Astronomy : here .

Nancy Atkinson at Universe Today gives an excellent description of the situation as well:  here .

We close with a beautiful graphic from that article at UT, which is a "logarithmic" scale of our local neighborhood from the Sun to Alpha Centauri:

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