Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Would you say I have a plethora of new asteroid discoveries?

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory reports that their WISE (Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer) spacecraft has discovered about 11,000 asteroids since its activation in January, 2010. That works out to about 100 a day. 50 of those are near-Earth objects.

JPL explains why infrared is great for finding asteroids:
With its infrared vision, WISE is good at many aspects of asteroid watching. First, infrared light gives a better estimate of an asteroid's size. Imagine a light, shiny rock lying next to a bigger, dark one in the sunshine. From far away, the rocks might look about the same size. That's because they reflect about the same amount of visible sunlight. But, if you pointed an infrared camera at them, you could tell the dark one is bigger. Infrared light is related to the heat radiated from the rock itself, which, in turn, is related to its size.

A second benefit of infrared is the ability to see darker asteroids. Some asteroids are blacker than coal and barely reflect any visible light. WISE can see their infrared glow. The mission isn't necessarily hunting down dark asteroids in hiding, but collecting a sample of all different types. Like a geologist collecting everything from pumice to quartz, WISE is capturing the diversity of cosmic rocks in our solar neighborhood.


  1. Looking forward to keeping an eye on this site. Especially for the space info. Not necs. into the biology parts (biology wasn't a strong suit) but math and astronomy (space in general) just grabbed me.