Space

January 8, 2014

Recently reactivated NASA spacecraft spots its first new asteroid

nasa-asteroid

NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) spacecraft has spotted a never-before-seen asteroid – its first such discovery since coming out of hibernation last year.

NEOWISE originally was called the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, which had made the most comprehensive survey to date of asteroids and comets. The spacecraft was shut down in 2011 after its primary mission was completed. But in September 2013, it was reactivated, renamed and given a new mission, which is to assist NASA’s efforts to identify the population of potentially hazardous near-Earth objects (NEOs). NEOWISE also can assist in characterizing previously detected asteroids that could be considered potential targets for future exploration missions.

NEOWISE’s first discovery of its renewed mission came on Dec. 29 – a near-Earth asteroid designated 2013 YP139. The mission’s sophisticated software picked out the moving object against a background of stationary stars. As NEOWISE circled Earth scanning the sky, it observed the asteroid several times over half a day before the object moved beyond its view. Researchers at the University of Arizona used the Spacewatch telescope at the Kitt Peak National Observatory southwest of Tucson to confirm the discovery. Peter Birtwhistle, an amateur astronomer at the Great Shefford Observatory in West Berkshire, England, also contributed follow-up observations. NASA expects 2013 YP139 will be the first of hundreds of asteroid discoveries for NEOWISE.

“We are delighted to get back to finding and characterizing asteroids and comets, especially those that come into Earth’s neighborhood,” said Amy Mainzer, the mission’s principal investigator from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “With our infrared sensors that detect heat, we can learn about their sizes and reflectiveness.”

2013 YP139 is about 27 million miles from Earth. Based on its infrared brightness, scientists estimate it to be roughly 0.4 miles in diameter and extremely dark, like a piece of coal. The asteroid circles the sun in an elliptical orbit tilted to the plane of our solar system and is classified as potentially hazardous. It is possible for its orbit to bring it as close as 300,000 miles from Earth, a little more than the distance to the moon. However, it will not come that close within the next century.

WISE discovered more than 34,000 asteroids and characterized 158,000 throughout the solar system during its prime mission in 2010 and early 2011. Its reactivation in September followed 31 months in hibernation.

NEOWISE will continue to detect asteroids and comets. The observations will be automatically sent to the clearinghouse for solar system bodies, the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Mass., for comparison against the known catalog of solar system objects and to determine orbit if the object is not known. A community of professional and amateur astronomers will provide follow-up observations, establishing firm orbits for the previously unseen objects.

Infrared sensors, similar to the cameras on NEOWISE, are a powerful tool for discovering, cataloging and understanding the asteroid population. Some of the objects about which NEOWISE will be collecting data could become candidates for NASA’s announced asteroid initiative, which will be the first mission to identify, capture and relocate an asteroid for astronauts to explore. The initiative represents an unprecedented technological feat that will lead to new scientific discoveries and technological capabilities that will help protect our home planet and achieve the goal of sending humans to an asteroid by 2025.

JPL manages the project for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Space Dynamics Laboratory in Logan, Utah, built the science instrument. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colo., built the spacecraft. 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.




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

NASA partners punctuate summer with spacecraft development advances

Spacecraft and rocket development is on pace this summer for NASA’s aerospace industry partners for the agency’s Commercial Crew Program as they progress through systems testing, review boards and quarterly sessions under their† Space Act Agreements with the agency. NASA engineers and specialists continue their review of the progress as the agency and partners move...
 
 

NASA seeks proposals for commercial Mars data relay satellites

NASA has issued a Request for Information to investigate the possibility of using commercial Mars-orbiting satellites to provide telecommunications capabilities for future robotic missions to the Red Planet. We are looking to broaden participation in the exploration of Mars to include new models for government and commercial partnerships, said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASAR...
 
 
NASA photograph

NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory celebrates 15th anniversary

NASA photograph To celebrate the 15th anniversary of NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, four new images of supernova remnants are being released. These spectacular cosmic vistas are the glowing debris fields that were crea...
 

 
NASA photograph

NASA begins engine test project for space launch system rocket

NASA photograph RS-25 rocket engine No. 0525 is positioned onto the A-1 Test Stand at NASAís Stennis Space Center in Mississippi preparation for a series of developmental tests. Engineers have taken a crucial step in preparing...
 
 

SSL selected to study asteroid retrieval for NASA

Space Systems/Loral, a leading provider of commercial satellites, announced July 18 that it was one of the companies selected by NASA to study system concepts and key technologies for NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission, which is expected to be a key part of the agency’s path to sending humans to Mars. SSL will conduct two studies;...
 
 
NASA image

NASA turns over next-gen air traffic management tool to FAA

NASA image As seen in this image, Terminal Sequencing and Spacing technology enables air traffic controllers to better manage the spacing between aircraft as they save both time and fuel and reducing emissions, flying more effi...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>