It’s been 26 years since the last infrared sky survey, and on Monday Nasa’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer [WISE] launched successfully from Vandenberg Air Force Base on a Delta II rocket – BBC report here and full launch video here. WISE will be used to identify objects as diverse as the most luminous galaxies known, over 10 billion light-years away, and potentially hazardous Near Earth Objects (NEOs) [see fun video here]. Those NEOs do occasionally get very close. As well as everything in-between – including neighouring brown dwarfs, stars without sufficient mass to sustain nuclear fusion. From the JPL press release
After a one-month checkout, the mission will spend the next nine months mapping the cosmos in infrared light. It will cover the whole sky one-and-a-half times, snapping millions of pictures of everything from near-Earth asteroids to faraway galaxies bursting with new stars. “The last time we mapped the whole sky at these particular infrared wavelengths was 26 years ago,” said Edward (Ned) Wright of UCLA, who is the principal investigator of the mission. “Infrared technology has come a long way since then. The old all-sky infrared pictures were like impressionist paintings — now, we’ll have images that look like actual photographs.”
Below the fold there’s the more detailed pre-launch science briefing. But first, here’s a short introduction to the WISE mission by Amy Mainzer, deputy project scientist for the mission at JPL.
WISE pre-launch science briefing from NASAtelevision