WISE to launch Monday morning

By Phil Plait | December 13, 2009 9:36 pm

[UPDATE: As of 8:10 a.m. Mountain time (15:10 GMT) the launch went well, and WISE is now orbiting the Earth. There will be some engineering checkouts over the next few hours, but everything looks good! Congrats to the WISE team!]

wise_rocketIf all goes according to plan, a Delta II rocket will thunder into the California sky at 9:09 a.m. EST (14:09 GMT) Monday, carrying the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) into orbit.

WISE is an amazing instrument. It will survey the entire sky in the far mid infrared, with much better resolution than ever before. It is expected to detect hundreds of millions of objects, including galaxies, faint, cool stars, asteroids in our solar system, and much more. Amy Mainzer, Deputy Project Scientist for WISE, is in a video that explains what it’ll do (sorry, the embedding didn’t work, but click through and watch it).

WISE is a precursor mission to the James Webb Space Telescope, a huge infrared observatory that will be to the mid infrared sky what Hubble is to the visible, near IR, and near UV. Surveying the entire sky will enable astronomers to make quite the wish list for JWST once it’s up and running in 2014.

I’m looking forward to seeing what WISE can do; the images alone should be jaw-droppingly beautiful, and of course the science will be great. You can watch the launch live on NASA TV, too.

Image credit: NASA/VAFB


Comments (23)

  1. Chris

    Am I missing something or are you astronomers just confused about regions of the EM spectrum?

    The longest wavelength that WISE can detect is 22 microns (~450 cm-1) this isn’t far infrared it mid-IR. Far-IR is at longer wavelengths then this (the KBr transmission limit is the limit of mid-IR at around 350 cm-1)

  2. Yeah, you’re right. I fixed that. I read the docs a little while ago, and would’ve sworn it went out to 100+ microns.

  3. Chris

    Your not confusing this one with the Herschel telescope are you?

  4. Petrolonfire

    So who’s the WISE guy then? 😉

    Sounds like a WISE move – a WISE moving very fast and rocketing away! 😉

    (Yeah I know, obvious puns but, hey, somebody inevitably had to say ’em! So I did!)

    Hoping it all goes smoothly & well for them. :-)

    PS. Is it me or have they gone for a turquoise /aquamarine paint job on the rocket there?

  5. Wow, there’s some bad astronomy in the video at NASA you pointed to. She says “we think there are about as much grains of sand on this beach as stars in the universe”.
    This is completely wrong. It’s more likely that there are a 100 stars for every grain of sand on every beach of the ENTIRE Earth.

    Maybe she meant as much grains on the beach as stars in our galaxy.

  6. StevoR

    Two hours thirty minutes and thirty seconds to go now according to the countdown clock.

    Great little video (3 minutes long) of WISE “treasure hunt” – & the possibility it may find a brown dwarf star closer to our Sun than Proxima Centauri and maybe cold as an iceberg here – good presenter, Amy Mainzer, too :


    Personally, I’m hoping for some stellar (and nearby brown dwarf) suprises myself. Wonder if WISE could image some exoplanets and Mira variables in more detail too? That’d be my choice of targets.

    Mind you the sketch of the spacecraft’s route there could be a bit of a worry! 😉

    Thinking of them and hoping all goes well. :-)

    I presume this complements & overlaps with the areas covered by the Spitzer scope too?

  7. Plutonium being from Pluto

    One other thing I’m wondering about as a target for WISE : the ice dwarfs – the little planets like Pluto, Eris, Sedna, Makemake, Quaoar, Haumea, etc ..

    Will WISE be detecting these and making any interesting observations on these intriguing and little-known new found worlds at the edge of our solar system?

    I know they talk on the WISE websites ( 😉 ) about finding more main-belt asteroids and on the video finding and sizing up Near Earth Asteroids but what about the Edgeworth-Kuiper Belt objects?

    Can & will WISE study these too & what might it discover?

    Oh & now the clock stands at T minus one hour, six minutes and thirty six seconds .. 35, 34 ..33 …

  8. BigBob

    15 minutes …
    BigBob (over lunch!)

  9. Plutonium being from Pluto

    @5. Petrolonfire Says:

    PS. Is it me or have they gone for a turquoise /aquamarine paint job on the rocket there?

    White base & then green & then white fairing at the top judging from the pictures coming in from NASA TV live feed. Why those colours & not, say, red white & blue or something else I don’t know.


    Yes! SUCCESS! So far twelve minutes in, all looks good. :-)

  10. Plutonium being from Pluto

    From the WISE facebook page :

    The WISE second-stage engine will re-ignite for several seconds 52 minutes into flight. WISE will separate from rocket at 55 minutes.

    Fifty-five minutes? That sounds like quite a long time – anyone know why that is & if that’s unusual?

    From watching (& listening on the radio to) earlier shuttle launches, I thought once it was above our atmosphere it wasn’t all that long (circa ten- fifteen minutes or so?) till everything was set & launch phase was over & things moved along to the orbital /operational phase. I guess this is because WISE is in a different, higher orbit right?

    (Sorry if this is an ignorant question.)

    So I thought I’d seen the whole successful launch & it was all good & complete but there’s a lot longer to wait before we know for sure now?

    Apologies if I ‘ve messed up by jumping the gun (or in posting too many comments here) & confused people. I’ve certainly confused myself. (red face) Not that that’s a first but anyhow. :-(

    Still so far, so good – so far as I can tell … (heads off to walk dog and look out for Geminids before going to bed & getting some much needed sleep.)

  11. awesomekip

    It’s because the initial launch put WISE into an orbit with an apogee (high point of orbit) above the atmosphere, but a perigee (low point of orbit) still inside the atmosphere. It will wait until it’s at apogee, then make a small burn in the prograde direction (forward) to raise the perigee to roughly the same height as the apogee, so it doesn’t reenter.

    The orbital period of a low earth orbit is about 90 minutes. So, the apogee burn is about half that time after launch. The shuttle does the same thing usually.

  12. StevoR

    @ 12 awesomekip : Thanks. :-)

    – StevoR (a.k.a. Plutonium being from Pluto)

    @ 14 Harman Smith : The mainstream media suck no doubt about it. Too early to tell how the Aussie media will report it – I just hope its better coverage than the poor LRO-LCROSS mission ended up with. :-(

    There’s a WISE facebook page, NASA TV online and the WISE mission page all of which may at some stage soon, I’d expect, have the launch video. Hope that helps? Or maybe the BA or somebody who knows how to do this might even embed it here?


    Okay, I couldn’t sleep & had to check back. So great to see things look like they have worked out so smoothly. 8)

    I’ve also just posted a poll on the BAUT forum as to whether WISE will find anything closer than Proxima Centauri or not :


  13. Harman Smith

    Noooooo! I missed the launch… once again the news isn’t reporting on something so special.

  14. awesomekip

    Actually, CNN reported on WISE with a short video explaining the mission shortly after the launch, and it didn’t suck.

    Edit: here is the launch video on youtube, found by searching google video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=45NAENHol24

  15. I saw the launch at the UVa Astronomy Dept. launch party. Dr. Verbiscer made a great cake with a Lego Delta II and all! Yum! She & Dr. Skrutskie let their kids skip school for a couple hours to see the launch (via Spaceflightnow). Congratulations to the WISE team!

  16. pcarini

    Speaking of bad media coverage.. this article (seen linked from slashdot) claims the WISE will “soon be bathing the cosmos with infrared light”:

    Take that Inverse Square Law!

    To their credit, the Slashdotters smelled the rat in that one pretty quickly.

  17. Karaktur

    I saw it launch this morning too. KTLA, a local LA news station was covering a house fire by helicopter and the pilot mentioned that they should swing the camera to view the launch. They didn’t but I did get up and go outside to see a somwhat dim orange/red light rise in west then stay close to the horizon and head south. It was different than other launches we’ve seen from Vandenburg.

  18. MadScientist

    I wouldn’t worry too much about the demarcation of mid/far IR; like all demarcations it’s awfully fuzzy. Going further down the line it’s still very typical to see sub-millimeter wavelength radiation called “radio” in one paper and “far infrared” in another.

    I’ve been telling colleagues that we need 3 or 4 of these around the earth not quite at geosync orbit, and looking down at the earth’s disc. Sure the resolution will be awful, but it’ll measure outgoing infrared energy across the spectrum. Throw in some near-IR and uv/visible instrumentation on top of that and we’ve got a system to actually measure the earth’s radiation budget from space. Of course Auroras would upset the measured outgoing visible radiation, artificial lighting does the same, and fossil fuel combustion increases the energy of the system essentially by using ancient stored solar radiation – but I’m just bored and want to fly more instruments.

  19. StevoR

    Excellent to hear that all is still going smoothly. 😀

    Launch photo is now available on the WISE facebook page :


    but not video yet or not that I’ve been able to find.

    In case its of interest to anyone, I’ve created a poll on the BAUT forum over whether WISE will find a red dwraf, brown dwarf or more than one such object nearer than Proxima Centauri. Oh & whether we’ll find one cold or colder than an iceberg as suggested in a video there. See :


    Hope is okay to post this link.

    What a great news day – WISE launch last night & now more exoplanets found – I’m buzzing! I even caught sight of a Geminid fireball last night (I’d estimate brighter than Jupiter), brief but spectacular last night /early this morn too :-)

  20. Asimov Fan

    All this does strongly remind me of reading the brilliant Isaac Asimov novel ‘Nemesis’

    (See : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nemesis…c_Asimov_novel) )

    where Asimov predicted a brown dwarf (“Megas”) with an earth-sized moon (“Erythro”) orbiting a red dwarf (“Nemesis”) all located closer than Proxima Centauri. Asimov’s “Nemesean system” also included an asteroid belt too.

    If something that’s anything remotely like that is eventually found then I’d like love to see it named ‘Nemesis’ or ‘Erythro’ or even better maybe ‘Asimov’s Star’ in his honour.

    To me, it also seems worth noting that Isaac Asimov even predicted the existence of Hot Jupiters (or something very much like them) in that one under-rated but, IMHON, superb 1989 novel.

    (Yes, that is one of my favourite novels – why do you ask? 😉 )

    PS. ‘Jupiter’s magnetosphere’ is “article of the day” on Wikipedia now too. :-) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnetosphere_of_Jupiter

  21. Crudely Wrott

    Thanks, Asimov Fan, for mentioning the Good Doctor’s insights as depicted in Nemisis. I was recalling his construction of the Nemesis/Megas/Erythro system, too. I read my first Asimov book nearly fifty years ago!

    I am looking forward eagerly to the first images from WISE, betting they are going to be beautiful and most useful. With all the news of new telescopes under construction, Hubble’s new eyes and so many powerful instruments in service, it seems we are in a new Golden Age of Astronomy.

    Why, I even wake up to the Astronomy Picture of the Day each morning. Beats the hell out of the traffic report . . .

    I’ve been enjoying your comments here for a while and look forward to more.
    (sign me) Another Asimov Fan.

  22. Asimov fan

    @ 22 Crudely Wrott ^

    Thanks, I am very honoured and can assure you the pleasure is all mine. Very glad you enjoy my posts. 😀

    PS. Link doesn’t seem to be working for some reason. I can assure you the page *is* there – trying this again :


    Or you can see it via “Nemesis disambiguation (star)” & also Asimov novel.

    Of course, I can’t test the link until my editing time is up (& thought I’d got it right before – a simple copy’n’paste job) so .. here’s hoping it works this time.


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