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NASA's newest spacecraft set to blast off

December 11, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
NASA'S Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, is just days away from an important mission.The spacecraft is set to launch on Monday from Vandenberg Air Force Base, north of Santa Barbara, to map the entire sky in infrared light.

It will spend the next nine months snapping millions of pictures of everything from near-earth asteroids to faraway galaxies.

"The last time we mapped the whole sky at these particular infrared wavelengths was 26 years ago," said Edward Wright of UCLA. Wright added that the old pictures were like impressionist paintings and these will be like actual photographs.

The infrared explorer will provide size and composition information about hundreds of objects giving NASA a better idea of their diversity. Officials say this information can't be obtained using visible light telescopes.

"We can help protect our Earth by learning more about diversity of potentially hazardous asteroids and comets," said JPL Deputy Project Scientist Amy Mainzer.