Joined: 1 Oct 06
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
News Release: 2006-130 October 13, 2006
NASA SAYS: 'BUILD IT AND INFRARED SURPRISES WILL COME'
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.
Such extensive sky coverage means the mission will find and catalogue all
sorts of celestial eccentrics. These may include brown dwarfs, or failed stars,
that are closer to Earth than Proxima Centauri, the nearest star other than our
sun. Brown dwarfs are balls of gas that begin life like stars but lack the mass
to ignite their internal fires and light up like normal stars. They do, however,
produce warm infrared glows that Wise will be able to see.
"Brown dwarfs are lurking all around us," said Dr. Peter Eisenhardt, project
scientist for the mission at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
"We believe there are more brown dwarfs than stars in the nearby universe, but we
haven't found many of them because they are too faint in visible light."
Wright, Eisenhardt and other scientists recently identified brown dwarfs using NASA's
infrared Spitzer Space Telescope. Wise will vastly expand the search, uncovering those
brown dwarfs closest to Earth that might make ideal targets for future planet-hunting
missions. Recent Spitzer findings support the notion that planets might orbit brown dwarfs.
Wise might also find the most luminous galaxies in the universe, some so far away that
their light has taken 11.5 billion years to reach Earth. Galaxies in the distant, or early,
universe were much brighter than our own Milky Way galaxy, but dust thought to exist in
these objects blocks much of their ultraviolet and visible light. These dusty coats light
up at infrared wavelengths; however, the galaxies are few and far between, so they can be
difficult to find. Wise will comb the whole sky in search of them.
"It's hard to find the most energetic galaxies if you don't know where to look," said
Eisenhardt. "We're going to look everywhere."
The spacecraft's detectors will be approximately 500 times more sensitive than those of a
previous infrared survey mission, called the Infrared Astronomical Satellite, a joint
European-NASA venture that operated in 1983.
JPL manages the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer mission for NASA's Science Mission
Directorate and Explorer Program. The Explorer Program is managed by NASA's Goddard Space
Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. The infrared cryogenic instrument for Wise will be designed
and built by the Space Dynamics Laboratory, Logan, Utah, and the spacecraft will be built
by Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corporation in Boulder, Colo. Mission operations will be
conducted at JPL, and images will be processed and distributed at the Infrared Processing
and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. The Center for
Science Education at the University of California, Berkeley, Space Sciences Laboratory,
will manage the Wise education program. JPL is a division of the California Institute
of Technology in Pasadena.
For more information on NASA's Wise mission, visit http://wise.ssl.berkeley.edu/.
For more information on NASA and agency programs, visit http://www.nasa.gov/home .
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