25,000 never-be­fore-seen as­ter­oids found by NASA’s new space te­le­scope

Austin American-Statesman - - WORLD & NATION - By Ali­cia Chang

LOS AN­GE­LES — Wor­ried about Earth-threat­en­ing as­ter­oids? One of NASA’s new­est space tele­scopes has spot­ted 25,000 never-be­fore-seen as­ter­oids in just six months.

Ninety-five of those are con­sid­ered “near Earth,” but in the lan­guage of as­tron­omy that means within 30 mil­lion miles. Luck­ily for us, none poses any threat to Earth any­time soon.

Called WISE for Wide-field In­frared Sur­vey Ex­plorer, the te­le­scope com­pletes its first full scan of the sky to­day and then be­gins an­other round of imag­ing.

What’s spe­cial about WISE is its abil­ity to see through im­pen­e­tra­ble veils of dust, pick­ing up the heat glow of ob­jects that are in­vis­i­ble to reg­u­lar tele­scopes.

“Most tele­scopes fo­cus on the hottest and bright­est ob­jects in the uni­verse,” said Richard Binzel of the Mas­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Technology. “WISE is es­pe­cially sen­si­tive to see­ing what’s cool and dark, what you could call the stealth ob­jects of the uni­verse.”

WISE’s 16-inch te­le­scope was built by Utah State Uni­ver­sity’s Space Dy­nam­ics Lab­o­ra­tory. It cir­cles the Earth 300 miles high and takes snap­shots ev­ery 11 sec­onds over the whole sky.

Be­sides all those as­ter­oids, WISE has also sighted 15 new comets. It has spied hun­dreds of po­ten­tial brown dwarfs — stel­lar ob­jects that are big­ger than a planet but much smaller than a star — and con­firmed the ex­is­tence of 20 of them, in­clud­ing some of the cold­est ever known.

The te­le­scope also de­tected what’s thought to be an ul­tra­lu­mi­nous galaxy, more than 10 bil­lion light-years away and formed from other col­lid­ing gal­ax­ies.

“We’re fill­ing in the blanks on ev­ery­thing in the uni­verse from near-Earth ob­jects to form­ing gal­ax­ies,” said project sci­en­tist Peter Eisen­hardt of the NASA Jet Propul­sion Lab­o­ra­tory. “There’s quite a zoo.”

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