WISE Opens Eyes
NASA's recently launched Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer drops its lens cover and soon will be open for business. The mission's "first-light" images of the sky will be released to the public in about a month, after the telescope has been fully calibrated.NASA engineers and scientists said Dec. 29 the recently launched WISE (Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer) has successfully dropped its protective lens cover and opened its eyes to the starry sky. NASA is now busy adjusting the rate of the spacecraft to match the rate of a scanning mirror.
WISE launched on Dec. 14 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
The spacecraft is an unmanned satellite carrying an infrared-sensitive telescope that will image the entire sky. The spacecraft will circle Earth over the poles, scanning the entire sky one-and-a-half times in nine months. NASA hopes the mission will uncover hidden cosmic objects, including the coolest stars, dark asteroids and the most luminous galaxies. The lens cover served as the top to a Thermos-like bottle that chilled the instrument -- a 16-inch telescope and four infrared detector arrays with one million pixels each. The instrument must be maintained at extremely low temperatures (minus 447 degrees Fahrenheit) to prevent it from picking up its own heat -- or infrared -- glow.
The cover kept everything cool on the ground by sealing a vacuum space into the instrument chamber. Now, space itself will provide the instrument with an even better vacuum than before.