NASA's space telescope opens its WISE eyes after ejecting protective cover

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Washington, December 30 (ANI): NASA's recently launched Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) space telescope has opened its eyes to the starry sky, after ejecting its protective cover.

WISE launched on December 14 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Once it was thoroughly checked out in space, it was ready to "flip its lid."

The cover served as the top to a Thermos-like bottle that chilled the instrument - a 40-centimeter (16-inch) telescope and four infrared detector arrays with one million pixels each.

On December 29, engineers sent a command to fire pyrotechnic devices that released nuts holding the cover in place.

Three springs were then free to push the cover away and into an orbit closer to Earth than that of the spacecraft.

Engineers and scientists say the maneuver went off without a hitch, and everything is working properly.

The mission's "first-light" images of the sky will be released to the public in about a month, after the telescope has been fully calibrated.

"The cover floated away as we planned," said William Irace, the mission's project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. "Our detectors are soaking up starlight for the first time," he added.

WISE will perform the most detailed infrared survey of the entire sky to date.

Its millions of images will expose the dark side of the cosmos - objects such as asteroids, stars, and galaxies that are too cool or dusty to be seen with visible light.

The telescope will survey the sky one-and-a-half times in nine months, ending its primary mission when the coolant it needs to see infrared light evaporates away.

Scientists and engineers are now busy adjusting the rate of the spacecraft to match the rate of a scanning mirror.

To take still images on the sky as it orbits around Earth, WISE will use a scan mirror to counteract its motion.

Light from the moving telescope's primary mirror will be focused onto the scan mirror, which will move in the opposite direction at the same rate.

This allows the mission to take "freeze-frame" snapshots of the sky every 11 seconds, which is about 7,500 images a day.

"It's wonderful to end the year with open WISE eyes," said Peter Eisenhardt, the mission's project scientist at JPL. (ANI)

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