Washington, January 26 (ANI): NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, has spotted its first never-before-seen near-Earth asteroid, the first of hundreds it is expected to find during its mission to map the whole sky in infrared light.
Near-Earth objects are asteroids and comets with orbits that pass relatively close to Earth's path around the Sun.
The latest near-Earth object, designated 2010 AB78, was discovered by WISE on January 12.
The mission's sophisticated software picked out the moving object against a background of stationary stars.
As WISE circled Earth, scanning the sky above, it observed the asteroid several times during a period of one-and-a-half days before the object moved beyond its view.
Researchers then used the University of Hawaii's 2.2-meter (88-inch) visible-light telescope near the summit of Mauna Kea to follow up and confirm the discovery.
The asteroid is currently about 158 million kilometers (98 million miles) from Earth.
It is estimated to be roughly 1 kilometer (0.6 mile) in diameter and circles the Sun in an elliptical orbit tilted to the plane of our solar system.
The object comes as close to the Sun as Earth, but because of its tilted orbit, it will not pass very close to Earth for many centuries.
This asteroid does not pose any foreseeable impact threat to Earth, but scientists will continue to monitor it.
"We are thrilled to have found our first new near-Earth object," said Amy Mainzer of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
"It is great to receive the first of many anticipated near-Earth object discoveries by the WISE system," said Don Yeomans, manager of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office at JPL.
"Analysis of the WISE data will go a long way toward understanding the true nature of this population," he added. (ANI)