Spaceflight Insider

VIDEO: NEOWISE asteroid survey data released

This movie shows the progression of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) investigation for the mission’s first four years following its restart in December 2013. Green dots represent near-Earth objects. Gray dots represent all other asteroids which are mainly in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Yellow squares represent comets. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/PSI

Data collected over four years by NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) has been publicly released by the mission team, accompanied by an animation that includes all asteroids and comets detected over the mission’s duration.

Near-Earth objects (NEOs) include asteroids and comets that orbit close to Earth as the result of having been perturbed by the gravity of solar system planets, especially Jupiter. Based on their sizes and how closely their orbits approach Earth, some are labeled potentially hazardous asteroids (PHAs).

NEOWISE, which just released its fourth year of data, is a re-purposed mission that grew out of NASA’s original Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), which launched in 2009 and operated for two years, imaging galaxies, stars, and asteroids.

Put into hibernation in 2011 after completing its primary mission, the telescope was given a new mission, NEOWISE, for which it was awakened in 2013. This mission centered on identifying and characterizing all NEOs using infrared, as well as learning the sizes and compositions of more distant asteroids and comets.

Since its reactivation, NEOWISE has surveyed the sky almost eight times and studied 29,375 objects, including 788 NEOs and 136 comets. In the last year alone, from December 2016 to December 2017, it captured 2.5 million infrared images of the sky and found ten PHAs.

The mission is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, on behalf of the space agency’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO).

NEOWISE continues to expand our catalog and knowledge of these elusive and important objects. In total, NEOWISE has now characterized sizes and reflectivities of over 1,300 Near-Earth Objects since the spacecraft was launched, offering an invaluable resource for understanding the physical properties of this population, and studying what they are made of and where they have come from,” said mission principal investigator Amy Mainzer of JPL in a news release.

All four years of NEOWISE data have been combined into a single public archive comprised of 10.3 million sets of images, which have yielded 7.6 billion source detections.

Video courtesy of NASA JPL



Laurel Kornfeld is an amateur astronomer and freelance writer from Highland Park, NJ, who enjoys writing about astronomy and planetary science. She studied journalism at Douglass College, Rutgers University, and earned a Graduate Certificate of Science from Swinburne University’s Astronomy Online program. Her writings have been published online in The Atlantic, Astronomy magazine’s guest blog section, the UK Space Conference, the 2009 IAU General Assembly newspaper, The Space Reporter, and newsletters of various astronomy clubs. She is a member of the Cranford, NJ-based Amateur Astronomers, Inc. Especially interested in the outer solar system, Laurel gave a brief presentation at the 2008 Great Planet Debate held at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, MD.

Reader Comments

I am trying to understand .. because this interests me, it seems to me , all these objects orbiting the Earth are drawn to the Earths gravity… .. it makes me wonder if the climate changes can eventually effect the protection of the gravity and release the objects orbiting us

Clive Bashford

Near-Earth Objects orbit the Sun not the Earth. Perhaps they are misnamed, because they are usually tens of millions of miles away, but they follow paths which can come close to the orbit followed by the Earth.
It is nearly impossible for the Earth to capture an asteroid or meteor. They would either hit us or have the speed to escape again, one or the other.
The Earth’s gravity is produced by its overall mass, which will not be affected at all by climate change.

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