Back From the Dead: Mothballed Telescope to Hunt for Killer Asteroids

Following the scare from the Russian meteor, an asteroid hunting telescope is brought back online

An artist’s rendition of the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer
An artist’s rendition of the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer NASA/JPL-Caltech

Just six months ago a huge, previously unknown meteor exploded in the sky over Chelyabinsk, Russia, hurting hundreds of people and sparking, with renewed vigor, the search for similarly threatening rocks. Riding the tail of this newfound focus on finding, mapping and tracking every space rock that whips around us, NASA is bring a satellite back from the dead.

For just over a year, NASA’s WISE telescope (short for the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer) scanned the sky looking for asteroids, stars and galaxies. In 2011, the satellite was shut down and left to drift, purposeless, around the planet. Now, NASA is giving WISE a new life, bringing it back online in September to hunt for asteroids.

The meteor that exploded over Russia, recent research showed, came from a cluster of asteroids that is still flying around in space. Tracking these and other asteroids will be WISE’s new focus.

But WISE will have another job, too. NASA is working towards the goal of finding and capturing an asteroid—even landing people on one. They’ll be using this reinvigorated satellite to scout for a promising candidate.

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