NASA's NEOWISE Infrared Heritage Will Live On

After completing over 14 successful years in space, NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) mission will come to an end on July 31, 2023. However, the expertise gained from this mission will be crucial for the forthcoming NASA infrared mission known as NEO Surveyor (Near Earth Object Surveyor). Scheduled for launch in late 2027, NEO Surveyor represents a significant leap in NASA’s planetary defense strategy as the first purpose-built infrared space telescope designed specifically for locating hazardous near-Earth objects.

Before its transition into NEOWISE, the spacecraft, initially called WISE (Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer), embarked on a mission to survey the entire infrared sky when it launched in December 2009. The mission concluded in July 2011 with remarkable outcomes, including the study of distant galaxies, comets, and various celestial bodies. WISE’s discoveries included more than 100 million actively feeding supermassive black holes, which provided data to citizen scientists worldwide through the Disk Detective project. In addition, WISE excelled at locating main-belt asteroids, near-Earth objects, and identifying the first-ever known Earth Trojan asteroid.

In February 2011, when its coolant ran out, NEOWISE went into hibernation. Resuming operations under the new objective of finding and studying near-Earth objects that emit an infrared signal due to solar heat absorption, the mission began in 2013 under NASA’s near-Earth object observations program as NEOWISE. With over 44,000 objects observed through 1.45 million infrared measurements, including more than 3,000 near-Earth objects and 215 new discoveries (of which 25 are comets, including the well-known comet NEOWISE of 2020), NEOWISE will wrap up its survey by July 31, 2023.

When NEOWISE goes silent on August 8, 2023, it will be hibernating for the final time. As a result of its low-Earth orbit, NEOWISE is expected to disintegrate in the planet’s atmosphere around late 2024 or early 2025. Both NEOWISE and NEO Surveyor fall under the objectives of NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office, which aims to find and characterize 90% of potentially hazardous near-Earth objects that come within 30 million miles (48 million kilometers) of Earth’s orbit.

The JPL, Caltech, the Space Dynamics Laboratory, and Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp collaborated to create, manage, and operate the NEOWISE mission under NASA. The data processing, archiving, and distribution are handled by the IPAC, a research organization at Caltech in Pasadena, California. NASA manages JPL for the PDCO within its Science Mission Directorate. For more information on NEOWISE, visit the appropriate website sources.

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