If you have a keen interest in space matters, you also know about NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer – NEOWISE, in short – which is a spacecraft, launched in December 2009 (at that time, called WISE), to study celestial objects. Placed in hibernation in 2011, it was reactivated in September 2013, renamed NEOWISE and assigned a new mission: to assist NASA’s efforts to identify the population of potentially hazardous near-Earth objects.
NASA has just released its third year of survey data, mapping a total of 693 near-Earth objects since the mission was re-started in December 2013. Of these, 97 previously unknown celestial objects were discovered in the last year – 28 were near-Earth objects, 64 were main belt asteroids and five were comets.
“NEOWISE is not only discovering previously uncharted asteroids and comets, but it is providing excellent data on many of those already in our catalogue, It is also proving to be an invaluable tool in the refining and perfecting of techniques for near-Earth object discovery and characterization by a space-based infrared observatory. The NEOWISE images also contain glimpses of rare objects, like comet C/2010 L5 WISE. A new technique of modelling comet behaviour called tail-fitting showed that this particular comet experienced a brief outburst as it swept through the inner-solar system. Comets that have abrupt outbursts are not commonly found, but this may be due more to the sudden nature of the activity rather than their inherent rarity. It is great for astronomers to view and collect cometary data when they find an outburst, but since the activity is so short-lived, we may simply miss them most of the time.” (Amy Mainzer, NEOWISE principal investigator from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.)
Here the animation depicting our solar system survey’s discoveries: