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NASA Science

NASA WISE Telescope Starts Taking Pics 43

Posted by samzenpus
from the take-a-look dept.
coondoggie writes "NASA said its Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer spacecraft successfully popped the cover off its infrared telescope and began 'celestial treasure hunt' mission of sending back what will be millions of images of space. The WISE lens cap served as a safety system keeping the ultra-sensitive lens and telescope system safe until the spacecraft positioned itself correctly in orbit. The cap also served as the top to a 'bottle' that chille the instrument and detectors. This cryostat is a Thermos-like tank of solid hydrogen."
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NASA WISE Telescope Starts Taking Pics

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  • by wisebabo (638845) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @04:29AM (#30603874) Journal

    I understand that WISE is particularly well suited for finding asteroids (its an infra-red telescope so can pick up warm objects and its a survey scope). If this telescope finds an asteroid with our name on it with enough time to do something about it, it will make all the money spent on the space program by all the countries of the world seem like spare change.

    (I wonder if this is first post. If so, it'll be my first.).

  • Why... (Score:2, Informative)

    by symes (835608)
    ...so cold?

    WISE’s infrared telescope and detectors are kept chilled inside a Thermos-like tank of solid hydrogen, called a cryostat

    and surely the hydrogen will now boil off?

    And here's [berkeley.edu] the Berkely page and the NASA [nasa.gov] mission page for a more succinct intro.

    • and surely the hydrogen will now boil off?

      my suspicion would be that the hydrogen is expected to escape, and that the cryostat was to prevent damage to the instruments due to sudden major temperature changes. I could be completely wrong, though.

    • Re:Why... (Score:5, Informative)

      by khallow (566160) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @06:02AM (#30604084)

      and surely the hydrogen will now boil off?

      Exactly what they want. As the hydrogen melts and boils off, it removes heat which keeps noise down and image quality up. When the hydrogen finally boils off, it'll greatly reduce the value of the telescope since the internal components will heat up. That's probably when they'll end the mission.

    • Re:Why... (Score:4, Informative)

      by mforbes (575538) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @07:00AM (#30604226)
      TFA specifies that the hydrogen will run out about ten months into the mission (including a month for systems check-out).
  • Huh... I thought it stood for WISE Is Space Exploration. Picture Yoda saying this and it all makes sense.
  • Too bad Nasa can't make a telescope powerful enough to see the lunar landing site... But seeing into distant galaxies is a good start.
  • by bradbury (33372) <Robert@Bradbury.gmail@com> on Thursday December 31, 2009 @03:35PM (#30609462) Homepage

    Kepler [nasa.gov] and Corot [smsc.cnes.fr] are the missions which have been launched and will be searching for exoplanets over the next few years. WISE [berkeley.edu] and Herschel [esa.int] are the missions that have been launched, which are not targeted at exoplanets, but instead in the IR region. WISE tends to be focused as a total sky survey mission in the near-IR while Herschel is focused more on the mid-far IR at more specific targets.

    Combined they potentially give use the ability to begin the search for Matrioshka Brains [wikipedia.org]. IMO, one of the primary problems with astronomy and astrophysics is that the physicists (and most physics based research activities) start with the assumption that the "Universe is dead". But what if thats not true? What if it is in fact quite "alive"? This makes things horribly more complex for the physicists and astronomers because "life", esp. advanced intelligent life, can stretch the boundaries of what is determined by the laws of physics. Even more difficult -- for a complete "Theory of Everything" it probably means the physicists and astronomers are going to have to enter into serious discussions with the biologists and sociologists (to determine the characteristics that advanced civilizations might possess.

    The Kepler and Corot missions, because they are focused on stellar photometry (brightness) can detect transients of other objects in front of stars. So they may be able to provide some limits on the abundance of various "dark objects" orbiting between our solar system and those stars (the planet searches are obviously looking for repeats, but the data, once public could be scanned for transient occultations (i.e. one time apparent occultations which indicate something between us and the star, be it a nearby asteroid or a more distant Matrioshka Brain). Freeman Dyson has suggested that the study of stellar occultations would be useful (presumably recognizing that not every stellar occultation indicates a planet around the star -- some might represent intervening objects transiting across the field of view. Know the size of the object being viewed, and one can set limits on sizes/distances of what is being viewed). (And Jupiter Brains or Matrioshka Brains clearly fall outside of the realm of classical (read acceptable to the "realm of comfortability" of most astrophysicists). [I have been to several conferences of gravitational microlensing astronomers -- this statement is made on the basis of direct experience -- they think in terms of hard data and they will only reluctantly acknowledge ideas which conflict with those in which they have been trained).

    Now the WISE and Herschel missions are more interesting from the perspective that they begin to allow us to ask the fundamental question of "What is the rate at which Stars go dark?", i.e. what is the rate at which civilizations migrate from a pre-Kardashev type I level civilization (where we are now) to a Kardashev type II level civilzation (which does not require but is significantly enabled by the development of mature molecular nanotechnology [in the robust Drexler/Merkle/Freitas framework]. So the possible development rate could be measured in anything from months (which is feasible within our solar system, to decades, to centuries (solar system development has varying degrees of "difficulty")). And one measures that rate at that which a solar system goes "dark", with a slow conversion of visible light radiation (an undeveloped star) into an IR star (that being intelligently harvested) (i.e. the star effectively goes "dark"). We are just posed on this transition point ourselves, so it is not unworthy of study or discussion. Perhaps most importantly, the currently launched missions enable the setting of limits on the abundance of Advanced Extraterrestrial Civilizations. And it is useful to

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