As we welcome a new year, Planetary Radio welcomes back a guest whose space telescope has just made a triumphant return of its own. Amy Mainzer is Principal Investigator for the NEOWISE mission. That’s the Near Earth Object Widefield Infrared Survey Explorer, and its story is one of ingenuity and accomplishment. NEOWISE started as just WISE, a cryogenically-cooled mapper of the universe. Its days of exploring might have run out when its solid hydrogen (!) ran out, but Amy and others realized it might still be useful within our solar system. Thus was born NEOWISE, discoverer of tens of thousands of asteroids and comets, including hundreds of those Near-Earth Objects we at the Planetary Society and others are concerned about.
The WISE spacecraft was then put into a hibernation that it might never have emerged from. Two-and-a-half years later, Amy and her team sent a wake-up call. WISE once again began scanning our solar neighborhood for space rocks and dirty snowballs. The PI tells us that the preliminary results have been outstanding.
Amy also salutes the contributions of amateur astronomers around the world who take the discoveries made by NEOWISE and other sky surveys and do the vital tracking that establishes the orbits of these objects. It’s thanks to them that we know where to find them when we need to, and whether they pose a threat to our homeworld. I’m particularly proud of the recipients of the Planetary Society’s Shoemaker NEO Grants who have joined this effort. Amy singles out Robert Holmes of the Astronomical Research Institute in Illinois. Bob has been on this show more than once. He’s also featured in our 2013 “thank you” video, along with a couple of other Shoemaker NEO awardees, Gary Hug and Robert Stephens. By the way, it’s a really fun video. I hope you’ll take a look…after you hear PlanRad, of course. Happy new year!