NASA is bringing a retired spacecraft back into service to help search for asteroids that could pose a danger to Earth, the space agency announced on Wednesday.
The spacecraft’s three-year mission will begin next month “with the goal of discovering and characterizing near-Earth objects (NEOs), space rocks that can be found orbiting within 28 million miles (45 million kilometers) from Earth’s path around the sun,” NASA said in a statement.
The Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) had been out of service since February 2011, after a 13-month mission to ” look for the glow of celestial heat sources from asteroids, stars and galaxies,” NASA said, calling its work ” the most accurate survey to date” of near-Earth objects.
Universe Today says the WISE spacecraft “has been sleeping in a polar orbit around Earth for two years,” and “will be turned back on next month to hunt for more potentially hazardous asteroids, and perhaps search for an asteroid that NASA could capture and explore in the future.”
“NASA already has found about 95 percent of the near-Earth asteroids that are .62 miles or larger in diameter.
“The agency is about halfway through a 15-year effort to find 90 percent of all near-Earth objects that are as small as about 459 feet in diameter.
“The search took on a note of urgency after a small asteroid blasted through the skies above Chelyabinsk, Russia, in February 2013 and exploded with 20- to 30 times the force of the Hiroshima atomic bomb. More than 1,500 people were injured by flying glass and debris.
“Later that same day, a much larger but unrelated asteroid soared closer to Earth than the networks of communication satellites that ring the planet.
“The events prompted Congressional hearings and new calls for NASA and other agencies to step up their asteroid detection initiatives.”