NASA – During its one-year mission, NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, mapped the entire sky in infrared light. Among the multitudes of astronomical bodies that have been discovered by the NEOWISE portion of the WISE mission are 20 comets. This collage shows those 20 new comets together in a kind of family portrait.
The fuzzy background in each picture is due to random fluctuations in infrared light, primarily from dust in our own solar system. Stars cannot be seen because they were subtracted during the process of combining multiple WISE pictures to make this view centered on the moving comets. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA
The WISE spacecraft is about the height and weight of a big polar bear, only wider. It measures 2.85 meters tall (9.35 feet), 2 meters wide (6.56 feet), 1.73 meters deep (5.68 feet) and weighs 661 kilograms (1,433 pounds). It is composed of two main sections: the instrument and the spacecraft bus.
The Space Dynamics Laboratory in Logan, Utah, designed, fabricated and tested the instrument. They also manufactured the electronics used to control the instrument and perform onboard processing of the detector images.
The spacecraft bus was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp, Boulder, Colo. Ball was also responsible for integrating the instrument to the spacecraft bus and testing the completed spacecraft.
The instrument includes a 40-centimeter-diameter (16-inch) telescope and four infrared detectors containing one million pixels each, all kept cold inside an outer cylindrical, vacuum-tight tank filled with frozen hydrogen, called a cryostat. Some say the whole assembly looks like a giant Thermos bottle, while others see a resemblance to the Star Wars robot R2-D2. After launch, the hydrogen vents on the cryostat are opened and the instrument cover is ejected. Once these events have occurred, a scan mirror in the telescope will be the only moving instrument part.
NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, launched aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket at 9:09 a.m. EST, Dec. 14, 2009 from Space Launch Complex-2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base. WISE will scan the entire sky in infrared light, picking up the glow of hundreds of millions of objects and producing millions of images. Image Credit: Bill Hartenstein/United Launch Alliance