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NASA discovered 72 asteroids, characterized 439 in first two years

NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) mission released second year of its survey data.  The spacecraft now also characterized a total of 439 NEOs as the mission again was begin in December 2013. At least 72 were new discoveries out of these.

Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) have been bumped by the gravitational attraction of the giant planets in the solar system into orbits that further allow them to enter Earth’s neighborhood.

NEOs are:

  • Comets
  • Asteroids

Eight of the objects found in the past year are classified as potentially hazardous asteroids (PHAs), which is based on their size and how their orbits approach Earth.

NASA’s NEOWISE spacecraft along with the release to the public of its second year of data has successfully accomplished another milestone in its mission to track, discover and characterize the asteroids and comets that approach closest toward Earth.

From its start in December 2013, NEOWISE measured over 19,000 asteroids and comets at infrared wavelengths. Moreover, over 5.1 million infrared images of sky were gathered last year.

A movie, that is based on the data collected exhibits asteroids and comets observed by NEOWISE so far.

Mission’s deputy principal investigator, James Bauer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said: By studying the distribution of lighter- and darker-colored material, NEOWISE data give us a better understanding of the origins of the NEOs, originating from either different parts of the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter or the icier comet populations.

Spacecraft which was originally known as Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), was launched in the last month of year 2009.

It was left in hibernation in year 2011 right after its primary mission was completed. In September 2013, it was started again and also renamed NEOWISE and alloted a new mission which was “to assist NASA’s efforts to identify the population of potentially hazardous near-Earth objects.” NEOWISE is also characterizing previously discovered asteroids and comets in order to provide information about their sizes and compositions.

NEOWISE principal investigator, Amy Mainzer of JPL said, “NEOWISE discovers large, dark, near-Earth objects, complementing our network of ground-based telescopes operating at visible-light wavelengths.  On average, these objects are many hundreds of meters across.”  NEOWISE has already discovered 250 new objects since it was restarted including 72 NEOs and four new comets.

  • NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, manages NEOWISE mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington
  • The he science instrument was built by Space Dynamics Laboratory in Logan, Utah
  • The spacecraft was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colorado
  • Science operations and data processing take place at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena
  • Caltech manages JPL for NASA