NASA makes a WISE choice

NASA makes a WISE choice

NASA makes a WISE choice

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
Oct. 17 2006 8:51 PM

NASA makes a WISE choice

Har har.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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I was very pleased to read that the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer satellite has been given the go-ahead by NASA to begin construction:

Engineers are rolling up their sleeves in preparation for building a telescope that will find the nearest star-like objects and the brightest galaxies. NASA has approved the start of construction on a new mission called the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, which will scan the entire sky in infrared light.

"There's a whole infrared sky out there full of surprises," said Dr. Edward Wright, principal investigator for the mission at the University of California, Los Angeles. "By surveying the entire sky, we are bound to find new and unexpected objects."

An estimated $300-million mission, the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or "Wise," has been in the planning stages for the past eight years. It is scheduled to launch into an Earth orbit in late 2009. It will spend seven months collecting data.

The technology for viewing IR has been getting better and better. I've posted a zillion images from Spitzer (do a search here on the blog for those images), and WISE will complement them well. While Spitzer looks at specific objects with a narrow view, WISE will look at the entire sky, and give a fantastic and much-needed overview of the sky. It's been done before, but never with this kind of sensitivity. WISE will find brown dwarfs, distant galaxies, and study objects in our own solar system too.

I've been interested in brown dwarfs for a long time, and I've often wondered if we'll ever find one closer to us than the nearest known star, Proxima Centauri (itself a very faint red dwarf). WISE is capable of finding one, if there's one to be found. Wouldn't that be something! A new friend in our own backyard who's been there the whole time.

My congrats to Ned Wright (whom I've known for a few years; he has a great cosmology FAQ which I use quite a bit for my own work) and his team!