NEOWISE Mission End: Sun destroys NASA telescope

NASA plans to terminate the NEOWISE telescope mission. This is due to an increase in solar activity.

NEOWISE mission in the artist’s image. Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech

In 2009, NASA launched the WISE telescope into Earth’s orbit. The purpose of its mission was to compile an infrared survey of the entire sky. The data collected by the telescope was later used by astronomers to search for objects such as ultra-bright infrared galaxies, regions of active star formation, brown dwarfs, etc. WISE has also discovered over 34,000 previously unknown asteroids.

By the end of 2010, WISE had exhausted the refrigerant reserves necessary for cooling its instruments and was unable to continue its main mission, after which it was put into sleep mode. After a while, NASA found a new use for the inactive spacecraft, and it was reactivated. The telescope was assigned the task of studying asteroids and comets. The main focus was on the search for objects that could pose a threat to our planet. Along with the new mission, the telescope received a new name — NEOWISE.

Over the next ten years, NEOWISE scanned the sky twenty times in total, taking over 1.4 million infrared images. The telescope has observed 44 thousand objects in the Solar System. These included 3,000 near-Earth asteroids, 215 of which were previously unknown to astronomers. In addition, WISE discovered 25 comets, including the famous C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE), which graced the earth’s sky in the summer of 2020. The telescope also participated in observations of the Dinkinesh asteroid, which was recently visited by the Lucy mission.

Comet NEOWISE. Source: Juan Carlos Casado

Unfortunately, NEOWISE’s days are already numbered. It’s all about increasing solar activity. It led to the “inflating” of the Earth’s atmosphere. The NEOWISE telescope has no engines, so it cannot withstand the “braking” effect it has. Currently, the telescope is in an orbit with a height of 480 km. But according to the calculations of engineers, by the beginning of 2025, the height of NEOWISE will decrease so much that it will lose the opportunity to continue scientific observations. Some time after that, the telescope will enter the dense layers of the atmosphere and burn up.

However, although the telescope will soon cease to exist, the data it collects will be studied by astronomers for a long time. And in 2028, NASA plans to launch the NEO Surveyor, which will continue the NEOWISE business and study near-Earth asteroids.

According to

Follow us on Twitter to get the most interesting space news in time