Tag Archives: NEOWISE

The surface properties of 122 asteroids revealed

Using archive data produced by the Wide-field Infrared Explorer telescope (WISE, renamed NEOWISE) astronomers have been able to estimate the surface properties of 122 small asteroids located in the asteroid belt.

“Using archived data from the NEOWISE mission and our previously derived shape models, we were able to create highly detailed thermophysical models of 122 main belt asteroids,” said Hanuš, lead author of the paper. “We now have a better idea of the properties of the surface regolith and show that small asteroids, as well as fast rotating asteroids, have little, if any, dust covering their surfaces.” (Regolith is the term for the broken rocks and dust on the surface.)

It could be difficult for fast-rotating asteroids to retain very fine regolith grains because their low gravity and high spin rates tend to fling small particles off their surfaces and into space. Also, it could be that fast-rotating asteroids do not experience large temperature changes because the sun’s rays are more rapidly distributed across their surfaces. That would reduce or prevent the thermal cracking of an asteroid’s surface material that could cause the generation of fine grains of regolith. [emphasis mine]

If this conclusion holds, it means that mining these asteroids might be much easier. Dust can be a big problem, as it can clog up equipment and interfere with operations. It also acts to hide the underlying material, making it harder to find the good stuff.

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WISE completes another year of asteroid hunting

After being mothballed in space and then reactivated, NASA’s WISE infrared telescope (renamed NEOWISE for no good reason) has now completed its second year of observations, looking for near-Earth objects (NEOs).

NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) mission has released its second year of survey data. The spacecraft has now characterized a total of 439 NEOs since the mission was re-started in December 2013. Of these, 72 were new discoveries. Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) are comets and asteroids that have been nudged by the gravitational attraction of the giant planets in our solar system into orbits that allow them to enter Earth’s neighborhood. Eight of the objects discovered in the past year have been classified as potentially hazardous asteroids (PHAs), based on their size and how closely their orbits approach Earth. [emphasis mine]

Unfortunately, the press release does not provide any details about those eight potentially hazardous asteroids.

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The recently reactivated WISE space telescope has discovered its first new asteroid.

The recently reactivated WISE space telescope has discovered its first new asteroid.

2013 YP139 is about 27 million miles (43 million kilometers) from Earth. Based on its infrared brightness, scientists estimate it to be roughly 0.4 miles (650 meters) 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, renamed NEOWISE by NASA, is expected to come up with a lot more of these in the coming years.

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WISE, the Wide Field Infrared Survey Explorer, sent back its first images in almost three years this week.

Back from the dead: WISE sent back its first images in almost three years this week.

The Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer spacecraft, or NEOWISE, has taken its first set of test images since being reactivated in September after a 31-month-long hibernation, NASA officials announced today (Dec. 19). The space agency wants NEOWISE to resume its hunt for potentially dangerous asteroids, some of which could be promising targets for future human exploration.

We should note that NASA had shut down this functional space telescope even though the cost to use it to hunt asteroids would be relatively little. Cost was cited as the reason, but I suspect it was a combination of the vast overruns for the James Webb Space Telescope and the Obama administration’s puzzling hostility to science at NASA.

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