NASA’s NEOWISE telescope, which has been instrumental in studying near-Earth objects (NEOs), is set to become unusable in early 2025. This unfortunate development is due to increased solar activity, which has gradually caused the telescope’s orbit to lower over time.
The Earth’s atmosphere, heated by the Sun, plays a significant role in this phenomenon. During the Sun’s solar maximum, the atmosphere’s gases slow down NEOWISE, eventually pulling it lower in Earth’s atmosphere. This prevents the telescope from maintaining its desired orbit and poses a grave challenge for its operations.
Originally launched as the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) in 2009, NEOWISE has been indispensable in mapping the sky and studying various celestial objects. After two stellar sky-mapping missions, the telescope’s cryogenic coolant ran out in December 2013. However, NASA repurposed the mission to focus on surveying near-Earth objects.
Over the past decade, NEOWISE has made an impressive 1.45 million infrared measurements of over 44,000 solar system objects. It has also meticulously observed more than 3,000 near-Earth objects, providing invaluable data for scientists and researchers.
Despite the impending unusability of NEOWISE, its legacy and contributions will continue to live on. The vast amount of data it has gathered will continue to be utilized for research purposes, leading to potential new discoveries in the future. The information gathered by NEOWISE has greatly expanded our understanding of the solar system and will undoubtedly play a crucial role in future scientific endeavours.
As NEOWISE reaches the end of its operational tenure, it is undoubtedly a bittersweet moment for astronomers and space enthusiasts alike. Nonetheless, the valuable information it has provided and will continue to offer ensures that its impact on space exploration and the study of near-Earth objects will be everlasting.
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