This collage shows the 20 new comets discovered by NASA's NEOWISE mission, an extension of the WISE space telescope mission
NASA will reveal new findings about near-Earth asteroids during a press conference this Thursday (Sept. 29), agency officials announced today.
Scientists will present results based on data gathered by NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) spacecraft. The briefing will take place at 1 p.m. EDT (1700 GMT) Thursday at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., and it will have "implications for future research," NASA officials said in a media advisory.
From January 2010 to February 2011, WISE hunted for asteroids and comets in a mission called NEOWISE (with the NEO standing for "Near-Earth Object"). The observatory found more than 33,000 new space rocks in the main belt between Mars and Jupiter. [Photos From NASA's WISE Telescope]
Four panelists will discuss discoveries from the NEOWISE project, NASA officials said. Those panelists are:
- Lindley Johnson, NEO program executive, NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C.
- Amy Mainzer, NEOWISE principal investigator, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
- Tim Spahr, director, Minor Planet Center, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Cambridge, Mass.
- Lucy McFadden, scientist, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
The $320 million WISE telescope launched in December 2009 and spent 14 months scanning the heavens in infrared light. It shut down in February 2011.
NASA has a special interest in asteroids. In 2010, the Obama Administration directed the space agency to send astronauts to a space rock by 2025, as part of a plan to get people to Mars by the mid-2030s. And NASA recently announced that it will launch an $800 million asteroid sample-return mission called Osiris-Rex in 2016.
Osiris-Rex will rendezvous with a potentially dangerous asteroid called 1999 RQ36 in 2020, snag a few samples, and return them to Earth in 2023.
Since 1999 RQ36 is packed full of carbon-based compounds — the building blocks of life as we know it — the mission could shed light on how life originated on Earth. It could also help scientists better understand how to prevent or mitigate asteroid impacts, researchers have said.