Mapping the Sky in Infrared Light: (WISE)
The twinkling night sky has been an important component to civilizations throughout the world since ancient times with the oldest, accurately dated star chart coming from Egypt in 1534 BC. Thanks to technology created at Utah State University’s Space Dynamics Laboratory astronomers of today have a better understanding of the sky.
The Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) telescope was created by SDL for NASA to take a survey of the sky. Launched into orbit in December 2009, WISE scanned the entire sky in infrared wavelengths to find the nearest and coolest stars, the most luminous galaxies in the universe and various asteroids in the solar system.
During its mission, WISE took millions of images and discovered distant galaxies, comets and brown dwarf stars, as well as 33,000 previously unknown asteroids. By all accounts the mission was a total success.
“In my 24 years in the space industry, I have never seen as unflawed a mission,” said John Elwell, SDL’s program manager for the WISE instrument.
SDL manufactured the state-of-the-art infrared instrument to scan the sky with far better sensitivity and resolution than previous space-based instruments. WISE captured millions of images and provided scientists with a comprehensive map of the infrared universe that contains hundreds of millions of space objects. Attendees at the Sunrise Session will see a series of images taken by WISE.
WISE was built to detect heat given off by objects in space ranging in temperature from minus 330 Fahrenheit to 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit. In order to accomplish these measurements, SDL designed the instrument with a 16-inch telescope and four infrared detectors containing one million pixels each. Each of the detectors is kept cold inside a container filled with frozen hydrogen.
“For decades, SDL has collaborated with NASA to help it accomplish its scientific mission,” said Elwell. “WISE further validates our commitment to help NASA understand the origins, evolution and destiny of the universe and to understand the nature of the strange phenomena that shape it.”
About Mr. Elwell
John Elwell attended the University of Utah as an undergraduate, earning a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. After several years developing electronics for the oil and gas industry, in 1987, Mr. Elwell joined the Space Dynamics Laboratory. He completed his master’s degree while working on various research instruments, primarily infrared instrumentation for space- based missions. These instruments have advanced the study of the earth’s atmosphere, weather and climate, as well as astrophysics research for both the Department of Defense and NASA. His contributions have ranged from design and calibration through systems engineering to program management for the WISE mission. As the highly effective WISE mission comes to an end, he has recently become the program manager for an innovative project in weather prediction, the Sounding and Tracking Observatory for Regional Meteorology satellite. STORM’s infrared instrumentation may well be the future of real-time, extreme weather prediction.