New NASA Craft, With Infrared Power, Will Map the Unseen Sky

Wide field survey explorer new NASA craft

SEEING STARS The Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, which contains a four-million-pixel camera, will photograph the entire sky every six months. Credit: NASA

Most of the light from stars and other objects like planets in the universe is doubly invisible. It comes in the form of infrared, or heat radiation, with wavelengths too long for our eyes to pick up. Moreover, most infrared wavelengths do not penetrate the Earth’s atmosphere to get to our unseeing eyes.

So to take a proper inventory of cosmic shenanigans, astronomers have had to take to space. On Friday, they will get a little more help when the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is scheduled to launch the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, into orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California as early as 9:09 a.m., Eastern time.

Circling the Earth in a polar orbit 300 miles high, the spacecraft, equipped with a 16-inch telescope and infrared detectors, will photograph the entire sky every six months.

WISE is a successor to the Infrared Astronomy Satellite, or IRAS, which was launched in 1983 and made the first heat maps of the sky. And it is a trailblazer for the giant James Webb Space Telescope due in 2014.

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