Captain Kirk Would've Loved This
A new NASA mission will scan the entire sky in infrared light in
search of nearby cool stars, planetary construction zones and the
brightest galaxies in the universe.
Called the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, the mission has
been approved to proceed into the preliminary design phase as the
next in NASA's Medium-class Explorer program of lower cost, highly
focused, rapid-development scientific spacecraft. It is scheduled
to launch in 2008.
Like a powerful set of night vision goggles, the new space-based
telescope will survey the cosmos with infrared detectors up to
500,000 times more sensitive than previous survey missions. It will
reveal hundreds of cool, or failed, stars, called brown dwarfs,
some of which may lie closer to us than any known stars.
"Approximately two-thirds of nearby stars are too cool to be
detected with visible light," said Principal Investigator Dr.
Edward Wright of the University of California, Los Angeles, who
proposed the new mission to NASA. "The Wide-field Infrared Survey
Explorer will see most of them."
The telescope will also provide a complete inventory of dusty
planet-forming discs around nearby stars, and find colliding
galaxies that emit more light – specifically infrared light
– than any other galaxies in the universe. In the end, the
survey will consist of more than one million images, from which
hundreds of millions of space objects will be catalogued.
"The mission will complete the basic reconnaissance of the
universe in mid-infrared wavelengths, providing a vast storehouse
of knowledge that will endure for decades," said Dr. Peter
Eisenhardt, project scientist for the mission at NASA's Jet
Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena (CA). "This catalogue of data will
also provide NASA's future James Webb Space Telescope with a
comprehensive list of targets."
JPL will manage the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer at a
total cost to NASA of approximately $208 million. William Irace of
JPL is the project manager. The cryogenic instrument will be built
by the Space Dynamics Laboratory, Logan, Utah, and the spacecraft
will be built by Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corporation,
Boulder, Colorado. Science operations and data processing will take
place at the JPL/Caltech Infrared Processing and Analysis Center,
Pasadena. (CA). JPL is a division of Caltech.
More than 70 US and cooperative international scientific space
missions have been part of NASA's Explorer program. The missions
are characterized by relatively moderate cost, and by small- to
medium-sized missions that are capable of being built, tested and
launched in a short time interval compared to the large
observatories. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt (MD),
manages the Explorer program for the Science Mission Directorate,
NASA Headquarters, Washington.