VIDEO: NEOWISE asteroid survey data released
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.
“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.