This is the Hidden Universe of the Spitzer Space Telescope, exploring the mysteries of infrared astronomy with your host Dr. Robert Hurt.
On the morning of December 14th, 2009, NASA launched its latest infrared telescope, the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE).
The mission will uncover objects never seen before, including the coolest stars, the universe's most luminous galaxies and some of the darkest near-Earth asteroids and comets.
Thanks to next-generation technology, WISE's sensitivity is hundreds of times greater than its predecessor, the Infrared Astronomical Satellite, which operated in 1983.
WISE will join two other infrared missions in space -- NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and the Herschel Space Observatory, a European Space Agency mission with important NASA participation.
The closest of WISE's finds will be near-Earth objects, both asteroids and comets, with orbits that come close to crossing Earth's path. The mission is expected to find hundreds of these bodies, and hundreds of thousands of additional asteroids in our solar system's main asteroid belt.
By measuring the objects' infrared light, astronomers will get the first good estimate of the size distribution of the asteroid population. This information will tell us approximately how often Earth can expect an encounter with a potentially hazardous asteroid.
WISE data will also reveal new information about the composition of near-Earth objects and asteroids -- are they fluffy like snow or hard like rocks, or both?