60-Second Space

Asteroid-Hunting Satellite Returns from Dead

The Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer satellite that went into hibernation in 2011 has been brought to life as an asteroid lookout. Clara Moskowitz reports

Like a phoenix, NASA's dead WISE satellite has been reborn from its own figurative ashes.

WISE was the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer. It launched in 2009 to map the universe in infrared light. Unfortunately, it ran out of coolant in 2011 and went into hibernation.

But even without coolant, WISE's infrared eyes are perfect for spotting dim rocks that radiate heat, not light—such as asteroids. Especially asteroids with Earth's name on them.

So WISE has been resurrected as NEOWISE. Its new prefix refers to near-Earth objects. And the satellite has just filed its first pictures in its new incarnation.

If NEOWISE finds potentially dangerous space rocks, we have a chance to try to push them off course.

NEOWISE is also looking for asteroids that astronauts could visit. President Obama wants us to commit to a human visit to an asteroid by 2025. And the repurposing of the satellite could help make reaching an asteroid a bit less of a rocky road.

—Clara Moskowitz

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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