Selections from the article, audio (.mp3) also available...
Our instrument is finding hundreds of asteroids every day that were never detected before," says Ned Wright, principal investigator for WISE and a physicist at the University of California in Los Angeles. "WISE is very good at this kind of work."
Visible-light telescopes conducting past asteroid surveys may have missed a large population of darker asteroids that WISE is now flushing out of hiding. Most of the asteroids WISE is finding are in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, but a fraction of them are different—they're the kind of Earth-approaching asteroids that send shivers all the way down a Brontosaurus' spine.
"WISE has only been in orbit for about three months, but we've already found a handful of asteroids classified as 'potentially hazardous,' including one seen in 1996 but lost until re-observed by WISE. To be named 'potentially hazardous,' an asteroid has to pass within about 5 million miles of Earth's orbit. One of our discoveries will cross Earth's orbit less than 700,000 miles away."
WISE tracks each potentially hazardous near-Earth object (NEO) it finds for an average of 30 hours and then produces a "short track" predicting where it will be for the next few weeks. The WISE team sends all of this information to the NASA-funded Minor Planet Center in Boston. They post it on a publicly available NEO confirmation page, where scientists and amateur astronomers alike can continue to track the asteroid.
"WISE actually discovered all five of the NEOs the center was confirming as of March 1st," says Wright.
Many telescopes on Earth are already searching. Notable programs include LINEAR, the Catalina Sky Survey, Spacewatch, NEAT and LONEOS, among others1. Working together over the years they have found more than a thousand potentially hazardous asteroids.
WISE's contribution to the total will be impressive. Between now and late October, when the mission is slated to end, Wright estimates the observatory will find a hundred thousand asteroids, mostly in the main belt, and hundreds of near Earth objects.
Link: Science @ NASA Article (An Avalanche of Dark Asteroids, 26 March 2010)
Link: AUDIO: Science @ NASA Article (An Avalanche of Dark Asteroids, 26 March 2010) - .mp3
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