15 Dec : A NASA spacecraft that blasted into space early Monday “will give us literally a new window on the universe,” says Paul Delaney, an astronomy expert and professor at York University in Toronto.
Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, will survey the sky for 10 months to search for hidden comets, asteroids and other astrophysical objects. The spacecraft lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Maria, Calif.
“Its main aim is to give us a better view of the cooler regions of the entire universe surrounding us,” Delaney said.
“There’s a whole range of objects that are at the cool end of the spectrum that we can’t see very easily from Earth.”
Citing asteroids as an example, Delaney describes cool objects as those that are “nearby, near-Earth — the ones that potentially could wipe out life on this planet.”
“We’re trying to get a better understanding of where they are, their distribution, how close they’re coming and so on,” he said.
Delaney added that WISE will be looking for failed stars, such as brown dwarfs, which scientists will be able to see for the first time.
The spacecraft will also be searching for proto-planetary disks, which Delaney describes as the regions around stars where new planets are forming.
“WISE is going to find some of those stars where we haven’t yet looked, but we’d like to, to give us a leg up…a handle on (the question), ‘Will those planets be there?'”
Thanks to Canadian contributions, the spacecraft has the ability to detect objects that give off infrared energy, or heat.
“A lot of the infrared detector technology has been pioneered in this country,” said Delaney.
“I don’t think we actually built any of this satellite per se, but the science behind the satellite, Canada and its astronomical community have been involved in now for decades.”
The $320-million project is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.