“NEOWISE provides a unique and critical capability in our global mission of planetary defense, by allowing us to rapidly measure the infrared emission and more accurately estimate the size of hazardous asteroids as they are discovered,” said Lindley Johnson, NASA’s Planetary Defense Officer and head of the Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO) at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Extending NEOWISE’s mission highlights not only the important work that is being done to safeguard our planet, but also the valuable science that is being collected about the asteroids and comets further out in space.”
As asteroids are heated by the Sun, they warm up and release this heat as faint infrared radiation. By studying this infrared signature, scientists can reveal the size of an asteroid and compare it to the measurements of observations made by optical telescopes on the ground. This information can help us understand how reflective its surface is while also providing clues as to its composition.
To date, NEOWISE has provided an estimate of the size of over 1,850 NEOs, helping us better understand our nearest solar system neighbors. As of March 2021, the mission had made 1,130,000 confirmed infrared observations of approximately 39,100 objects throughout the solar system since its restart in 2013. Mission data is shared freely by the IPAC/Caltech-led archive, and the data has contributed to over 1,600 peer-reviewed studies. The University of Arizona is also a key partner of the NEOWISE mission as the home institution of the NEOWISE principal investigator, Amy Mainzer, who is a professor of planetary science at the University’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory.
Among its many accomplishments after its reactivation, NEOWISE also discovered Comet NEOWISE, which was named after the mission and dazzled observers worldwide in 2020.
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