Millions of images of celestial objects, including asteroids, observed by NASA's Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) spacecraft are now available online to the public. The data was collected following the restart of the asteroid-seeking spacecraft in December 2013 after a lengthy hibernation.
The collection of millions of infrared images and billions of infrared measurements of asteroids, stars, galaxies and quasars spans data obtained between December 13, 2013, and December 13, 2014.
In the first year of the survey, NEOWISE captured 2.5 million image sets, detecting and providing data on over 10 000 solar system objects. The data revealed 129 new solar system objects, including 39 previously undiscovered near-Earth objects. Each of the images also contains a multitude of background stars, nebulae and galaxies. More than 10 billion measurements of these more distant objects are contained in the release of the NEOWISE data.
Principal investigator for NEOWISE at NASA's JPL, Amy Mainzer said one of the most satisfying things about releasing these cutting-edge astronomical data to the public is seeing what other exciting and creative projects the scientific community does with them.
The NEOWISE spacecraft viewed comet C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy) for a second time on January 30, 2015, as the comet passed through the closest point to our sun along its 14,000-year orbit, at a solar distance of 120 million miles (193 million kilometers). Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.
NEOWISE is a space telescope that scans the skies for asteroids and comets. The telescope sees infrared light, which allows it to pick up the heat signature of asteroids and obtain better estimates of their true sizes. As a result, NEOWISE can see dark asteroids that are harder for visible-light surveys to find. Nearly all of the NEOWISE discoveries have been large - hundreds of yards, or meters, wide - and very dark, similar to printer toner. When NEOWISE's infrared data on an object is combined with that of a visible-light optical telescope, it helps scientists understand the object's composition.
NEOWISE always looks in the dawn and twilight skies – the direction perpendicular to a line between Earth and the Sun. This unique vantage point makes it possible for NEOWISE to spot objects that approach Earth from the direction of the Sun, unlike ground-based telescopes that are only able to view the night sky.
- To view the NEOWISE data, visit: http://wise2.ipac.caltech.edu/docs/release/neowise/
Featured image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech