After a series of delays, NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) began its mission Monday morning, rocketing toward orbit at 9:09 A.M. (Eastern Standard Time). WISE's launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California was initially delayed because of a scheduling conflict with a satellite launch on the east coast, then twice pushed back due to an anomaly in a steering engine on its booster rocket.
WISE is an infrared astronomy platform charged with mapping the entire sky from a polar orbit around Earth. Following a monthlong checkout, the satellite is designed to spend nine months surveying the sky in the infrared wavelengths that are largely blocked by the planet's atmosphere and hence inaccessible to ground-based observers. Among the tasks WISE may accomplish on orbit are cataloguing dim, failed stars known as brown dwarfs, some of which may lie closer to the sun than the nearest presently known stellar neighbors; giving sky watchers a better idea of the threat presented by near-Earth asteroids; and singling out interesting targets both near and far for larger telescopes to study in greater detail.
Photo credit: Bill Hartenstein, United Launch Alliance