NASA's Near-Earth Object Wide-field
Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) telescope has had a pretty interesting
life. Originally operational between 2009 and 2011 as the Wide-field
Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), the probe was brought out of hibernation in 2013, and tasked with an all new mission – spotting,
tracking and characterizing asteroids and comets that approach closet
The resurrected telescope has now reached a big milestone, releasing its entire second year Near-Earth Object (NEO) tracking data to the public. Perhaps most interestingly, eight of the discovered objects have been classified, based on their size and the proximity of their orbit to Earth, as potentially hazardous asteroids or PHAs.
Over the last year, the telescope has snapped an astonishing 5.1 million infrared images. Since beginning the survey at the end of 2013, it's measured more than 19,000 asteroids and comets at infrared wavelengths, discovering 250 all new objects, including four new comets. The recorded data also provides details of the origins of the objects.
"By studying the distribution of lighter and darker colored material, NEOWISE data gives us a better understanding of the origins of the NEOs, originating from either different parts of the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter or the icier comet populations," said the mission's deputy principal investigator, NASA's James Bauer.
For more on the new NEOWISE data, you can take a look at the visualization below. It includes every object spotted by the telescope so far, and does a pretty good job of conveying just how cluttered our solar system really is.