NASA’s Spacecraft Returns First Images After Reactivation

By  //  December 20, 2013

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SPACECRAFT USES 16-INCH TELESCOPE

NASA.gov — NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE), a spacecraft that made the most comprehensive survey to date of asteroids and comets, has returned its first set of test images in preparation for a renewed mission.

NASA’s NEOWISE spacecraft opened its "eyes" after more than two years of slumber to see the starry sky. This image of a patch of sky in the constellation Pisces is among the first taken by the spacecraft’s infrared cameras. (NASA.gov image)

NASA’s NEOWISE spacecraft opened its “eyes” after more than two years of slumber to see the starry sky. This image of a patch of sky in the constellation Pisces is among the first taken by the spacecraft’s infrared cameras. (NASA.gov image)

NEOWISE discovered more than 34,000 asteroids and characterized 158,000 throughout the solar system during its prime mission in 2010 and early 2011. It was reactivated in September following 31 months in hibernation, to assist NASA’s efforts to identify the population of potentially hazardous near-Earth objects (NEOs). NEOWISE also can assist in characterizing previously detected asteroids that could be considered potential targets for future exploration missions.

NEOWISE (NEAR-EARTH OBJECT WIDE-FIELD INFRARED SURVEY EXPLORER)

“NEOWISE not only gives us a better understanding of the asteroids and comets we study directly, but it will help us refine our concepts and mission operation plans for future, space-based near-Earth object cataloging missions,” said Amy Mainzer, principal investigator for NEOWISE at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

This is one of the first images captured by the revived NEOWISE mission, after more than two years of hibernation. It shows a patch of sky in the constellation Canes Venatici, or the Hunting Dogs. (NASA.gov image)

This is one of the first images captured by the revived NEOWISE mission, after more than two years of hibernation. It shows a patch of sky in the constellation Canes Venatici, or the Hunting Dogs. (NASA.gov image)

“The spacecraft is in excellent health, and the new images look just as good as they were before hibernation. Over the next weeks and months we will be gearing up our ground-based data processing and expect to get back into the asteroid hunting business, and acquire our first previously undiscovered space rock, in the next few months.”

Some of the deep-space images taken by the spacecraft include a previously detected asteroid named (872) Holda.

With a diameter of 26 miles (42 kilometers), this asteroid orbits the sun between Mars and Jupiter in a region astronomers call the asteroid belt.

SPACECRAFT USES 16-INCH TELESCOPE

“The spacecraft is in excellent health, and the new images look just as good as they were before hibernation. Over the next weeks and months we will be gearing up our ground-based data processing and expect to get back into the asteroid hunting business, and acquire our first previously undiscovered space rock, in the next few months.” — Amy Mainzer

The images tell researchers the quality of the spacecraft’s observations is the same as during its primary mission.

The spacecraft uses a 16-inch (40-centimeter) telescope and infrared cameras to seek out and discover unknown NEOs and characterize their size, albedo or reflectivity, and thermal properties.

Asteroids reflect, but do not emit visible light, so data collected with optical telescopes using visible light can be deceiving.

Infrared sensors, similar to the cameras on NEOWISE, are a powerful tool for discovering, cataloging and understanding the asteroid population. Some of the objects about which NEOWISE will be collecting data could become candidates for the agency’s announced asteroid initiative.


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