NASA has recently released two years’ worth of Near-Earth Object observations. According to the agency, its Near-Earth Object Wide-field Survey Explorer, in short NEOWISE, has identified 493 Near Earth Objects (NEOs) since December 2013, when the mission was resumed. Of these objects, 72 are completely new.
NEOs are comets, asteroids, and other space rocks that were pulled out from the Asteroid Belt by the gravitation of giant planets and set on an orbit that brings them close to Earth. Some of these rocks need permanent scrutiny because they can become a threat to our planet.
NASA scientists said that eight of the NEOs found last year are ‘potentially hazardous asteroids.’ Researchers give asteroids such description based on the space bodies’ size and orbital proximity to Earth.
NEOWISE observatory’s main goal is to detect, monitor, and describe comets and asteroids that enter Earth’s neighborhood. Since Dec. 2013, the probe has detected over 19,000 space rocks in infrared. NASA and California Institute of Technology (Calltech) have released a short clip with the comets and asteroids the mission has tracked.
James Bauer, NEOWISE mission’s lead investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, explained that the probe’s data helped his team understand the source of NEOs whizzing past our planet. Some of NEOs originate in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter or stray comets.
NEOWISE had its debut in late 2009 with the moniker Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). Two years later, the spacecraft was deemed inactive after it had completed its first mission. In Sept. 2013, the observatory came back to life as NEOWISE with a new mission: to help the U.S. space agency track space objects that may be dangerous to Earth. The mission also analyzes already known asteroid and comets to better understand their origin and composition.
NEOWISE uses infrared wavelengths in its mission, while ground telescopes that also hunt NEOs use visible-light wavelengths. Amy Mainzer, another NASA investigator involved in the mission, said that many NEOs are hundreds of meters wide.
Mission investigators reported that the asteroid-hunting orbiter has identified 250 new objects since 2013, of which 72 were classified as NEOs and four as new comets.
The mission has cost the U.S. 320 million and is expected to require an extra $5 million every year.
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