Rocks and Stars with Amy: Milestones

Rocks and Stars with Amy
By Amy Mainzer

It’s hard to believe that we’ve just crossed the six-month mark on WISE — seems like just yesterday when we were all up at Vandenberg Air Force Base, near Santa Barbara, shivering in the cold at night while watching the countdown clock. But the time is flying (literally!) as WISE whips by over our heads. We’re analyzing data ferociously now, trying to get the images and the data ready for the public release next May. Even though the mission’s lifetime is short, we’ve gotten into a semblance of a routine. We receive and process images of stars, galaxies and other objects taken by the spacecraft every day, and we’re running our asteroid-hunting routine on Mondays and Thursdays. We’ve got a small army (well, okay, three — but they do the work of a small army!) of extremely talented students who are helping us verify and validate the asteroid detections, as well as hunt for new comets in the data. Plus, there is an unseen, yet powerful, cadre of observers out there all over the world following up our observations.

asteroids and comets detected by WISEThis plot shows asteroids and comets observed by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ULCA/JHU   |   ›See related video

And so it’s come to pass that we’ve achieved some milestones. We completed our first survey of the entire sky on July 17 — and we just discovered our 100th new near-Earth object! That’s out of the approximately 25,000 new asteroids we’ve discovered in total so far; most of these hang out in the main belt between Mars and Jupiter and never get anywhere near Earth’s orbit. These new discoveries will allow us to conduct an accurate census of both the near-Earth and main belt asteroid populations. We’re really busy chewing on the data right now and calculating what it all means.

Because it’s so short, this mission reminds me a little bit of what the first days of college felt like — a tidal wave of new ideas, new sights and new thoughts. The pace of learning has been incredibly quick, whether I’m trying to get up to speed on asteroid evolution theories or tinkering with the software we use to write papers.

Speaking of papers, we’re in the process of preparing to submit several to science journals; in fact, I’ve already submitted one. The gold standard of science, of course, is the peer-review process. We submit our paper to a journal, and the scientific editor assigns another scientist who is an expert in the field but not involved in the project (and who usually remains anonymous) to read it and offer comments. The referee’s job is to “kick the tires,” so to speak, and ask tough questions about the work to make sure it’s sound. We get a chance to respond, and the referee gets a chance to respond to our responses, and then when everybody’s convinced the results are right, the paper is accepted and can be published. So stay tuned — we should have some of the first papers done soon telling us what these milestones mean for asteroid science.

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    7 Responses to “Rocks and Stars with Amy: Milestones”

  1. Jim Tyminski Says:
    July 23rd, 2010 at 10:03 am

    Anyway, love to read your blog, you do great work. Missed you over at CosmicDiary. Erf is getting lonely too… :)

    When are you appearring on Universe again? Love the show, and you are great on it!

    One last point about documenting your code; if it was hard to write it should be hard to understand.

    JIM (big fan)

  2. programming Says:
    August 1st, 2010 at 6:21 pm

    I bed your diary,:) , Good to see more people writing about planets.

  3. Samir Says:
    August 26th, 2010 at 10:24 pm

    Cool stuff. I can’t wait to see this research reveal more of the universe’s secrets to the planet. I always look forward to watching new theories and discoveries come to life on the television via simulations and animations. It opens the viewers eyes to possibilities sometimes never even dreamed…

  4. gustavo Says:
    September 1st, 2010 at 6:51 pm

    AMY paragraph: many of these asteroids could hit the Earth. As might be diverted, para That is not destroying our planet. It is true that APOFHIS, close Pásara OF THE EARTH in 2029? There is some technology to deflect.

  5. Noel Says:
    September 1st, 2010 at 10:10 pm

    Dear Amy,
    Are you married? I know, I know… How rude!
    Truth is, I have been watching The Universe for a few seasons, and while most of the presenters and hosts are great at their jobs, I can’t help but feel at ease when you’re on. There’s just something about a gorgeous nerd talking shop…
    Season 5 is the best so far, and it’s all thanks to you!
    Congratulations on all your successes, and I hope your tv personality allows you to go places and do things (driving a Tesla) that you would otherwise never get to!


  6. JAIME Says:
    September 12th, 2010 at 6:26 pm

    I am an Amy Fan,
    my Dream is to know her
    always I watch History Channel

    Amy I live in El Salvador, Central Americal
    the smallest country in the world
    Write me to my e-mail and then I will keep walking



  7. Arvind Sharma Says:
    September 26th, 2010 at 2:27 pm


    Just as a matter of interest what spectrum does the WISE infra-red look into?
    The near, mid- or the far or all the three???
    I have a feeling that this project study will become one of the most important studies in next 10 years’ time when one of the near earth object passes touching distance from earth in 2029. World media will be focusing on it and breaking your door . It has been now 60 million years since the last major impact. Looking at the history of earth based on study so far it looks like an impact is nearing or overdue. Dinosaurs had a pretty good run of 600 million year. Our species don’t have the technology yet however good theoretical ideas (none tested yet). Although a Hollywood actions hero can always be asked to plant a nuclear bomb on asteroid :-).
    In all honesty the single biggest and first challenge human species will face for its survival is Asteroids which will make the study of near earth objects and asteroids one of the most important studies. It may not be today but as soon as one of objects is thrown out of the asteroid belt and escapes big brother Jupiter to travel straight to earth and human species will be faced with first challenge. We all know sun will run out of fuel one day but that is billions of years from now however odds of asteroid hitting earth are quiet high. It has happened in past and it will happen again. One thing we forget is that evolution is an on-going process. In next 10 – 20 million year’s humans would have evolved. We might look different from now. With the exposure to technology in our daily life computational demand from our brains is high and we never know a new breed will evolve from us humans which will have much more developed brains as we had from our ape cousins. We would have learnt our genome and would have learnt to modify our body. Perhaps we would have broken the age code within our bodies and would have learnt to live longer. Time travel would no longer be a fantasy (although I believe going into past is not possible). Anyways back to the point that WISE will become one of the most important programme in Nasa history. It’s a matter of time when!!!!.

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