NASA to Announce New Asteroid Discoveries Thursday
This collage shows the 20 new comets discovered by NASA's NEOWISE mission, an extension of the WISE space telescope mission
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA

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.

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