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Weather Iffy for NASA's Sky Mapper Launch

New WISE Space Telescope to Map Infrared Sky Better Than Ever
An artist’s concept of NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) spacecraft. (Image credit: NASA/JPL)

NASA is hoping to launch a new infrared space observatory onFriday, but cloudy weather could delay the flight.

The Wide-fieldInfrared Survey Explorer (WISE) is slated to lift off atop a Delta IIrocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Dec. 11 between 9:09:33a.m. and 9:23:51 a.m. EST (1409 and 1423 GMT).

Unfortunately, thick clouds and rain are forecasted,prompting NASA to give the weather an 80 percent chance of preventing the launch.Even if liftoff is delayed for 24 hours, the forecast looks to be similar.

"We've got some challenging weather ahead of us,"said launch director Chuck Dovale during a Wednesday briefing.

If the spacecraft cannot launch Friday or Saturday, NASAwill stand down for two days to allow the cryogenic cooling systems on WISE tocool back down, and then try again. Conditions do look better for a launchattempt next week.

"The weather finally starts to clear and break up for Mondayand into Tuesday," said NASA weather officer Capt. Andrew Frey, Jr.

Other than cloud concerns, theobservatory is in good shape and prepared for its mission, managers said.

"I can report that the instrument and the satellite isready to go, the flight team is ready to go, and that the operations team isready to launch and operate WISE," said Bill Irace, WISE project manager. "We'rereally excited about this. It's a matter of just the weather now."

The $320 million spacecraft was designed to scan the heavensin long-wavelengthinfrared light, which can reveal dimstars, dark asteroids and other celestial objects that shine faintly invisible light but more brightly in infrared.

The orbiter will scan the entire sky with a wide field ofview to create an all-sky map of infrared light in about six months.

"It will represent the infrared motherlode that astronomerswill mine for years to come," said Jon Morse, director of astrophysics atNASA.



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Clara Moskowitz
Clara Moskowitz

Clara Moskowitz is a science and space writer who joined the team in 2008 and served as Assistant Managing Editor from 2011 to 2013. Clara has a bachelor's degree in astronomy and physics from Wesleyan University, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She covers everything from astronomy to human spaceflight and once aced a NASTAR suborbital spaceflight training program for space missions. Clara is currently Associate Editor of Scientific American. To see her latest project is, follow Clara on Twitter.