Heat-seeking telescope blasts into orbit

NASA has launched its latest space telescope into orbit Earth to scan the sky in infrared light and photograph the glow of hundreds of millions of objects.

The Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) has been called "the most sensitive set of wide-angle infrared goggles ever."

It will orbit 500 kilometres above Earth's surface for 10 months as it hunts for and collects data on dim objects such as dust clouds, brown dwarf stars and asteroids in the dark spaces between planets and stars.

The satellite will map the cosmos in infrared light, covering the whole sky one-and-a-half times and snapping pictures of everything from near-Earth asteroids to faraway galaxies bursting with new stars.

"The last time we mapped the whole sky at these particular infrared wavelengths was 26 years ago," says Edward Wright of the University of California at Los Angeles, who is the principal investigator of the mission.

"Infrared technology has come a long way since then. The old all-sky infrared pictures were like impressionist paintings - now, we'll have images that look like actual photographs."

WISE is expected to map the locations and sizes of roughly 200,000 asteroids and give scientists a clearer idea of how many large and potentially dangerous asteroids are near Earth.

WISE will also help answer questions about the formation of stars and the evolution and structure of galaxies, including the Milky Way.

By the end of its mission, WISE will have taken nearly 1.5 million pictures covering the entire sky, says NASA.


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