Rocks and Stars with Amy: This Year I Saw the Universe

By Amy Mainzer

Rocks and Stars with Amy

With WISE, I roamed the skies — seeing everything from the closest asteroids to the most distant galaxies. When I was a kid, maybe 6 or 7, I remember reading the encyclopedia about Andromeda, Mars and Jupiter. After that, I spent a lot of my free time (and a fair amount of gym class) wishing that I could be “out there” exploring the stars, imagining what it must be like to get close to a black hole or the lonely, cold surface of a moon. Fast-forwarding several decades, I’ve just spent a tremendously satisfying and delightful year using some of our most sophisticated technology to see “out there” for real. It’s pretty cool when your childhood dreams come true!

Today, the operations team sent the command to kill the survey sequence and put WISE into a deep sleep. While I’m sad to see the survey stop, the real voyage of discovery is just getting started as we unpack the treasures that our spacecraft beamed back to us. Although I’m going to miss waking up to see a new slew of pictures fresh from outer space, what I’ve looked at so far is only a tiny fraction of the millions of images we’ve garnered. My colleagues and I are working nonstop now to begin the decades-long process of interpreting the data. But I can already say for certain that we’re learning that the universe is a weirder, more wonderful place than any science fiction I’ve ever read. If I could go back in time to when I was kid, I’d tell myself not to worry and to hang in there through the tough parts — it was all worth it.

A cast of hundreds, maybe thousands, of people have worked on WISE and deserve far more credit than they get. The scientists will swoop in and write papers, but all those results are squarely due to the brilliance, stubborn persistence and imagination of the technicians, managers, engineers of all stripes (experts in everything from the optical properties of strange materials to the orbital perturbations of the planets), and administrative staff who make sure we get home safely from our travels. Although we may not be able to fly people around the galaxy yet, one thing Star Trek got right is the spirit of camaraderie and teamwork that makes projects like WISE go. For the opportunity to explore the universe with such fine friends and teammates, I am truly grateful.

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    13 Responses to “Rocks and Stars with Amy: This Year I Saw the Universe”

  1. Twitter Trackbacks for Blog - NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory » Blog Archive » Rocks and Stars with Amy: This Year I Saw the Universe [] on Says:
    February 1st, 2011 at 4:16 pm

    [...] Blog - NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory » Blog Archive » Rocks and Stars with Amy: This Year I Saw t… – view page – cached Blog posts by JPL engineers and scientists about their latest projects and findings as they work to explore Mars, Saturn and the universe beyond Tags [...]

  2. Rocks and Stars with Amy: This Year I Saw the Universe | JPL Blog | Hometown Pasadena | Says:
    February 1st, 2011 at 10:14 pm

    [...] the Full Story at JPL [...]

  3. Anon A. Mus Says:
    February 2nd, 2011 at 10:47 am

    What was the main reason for putting WISE into hibernation, funding or just the wealth of information already acquired?

  4. Rafael Says:
    February 6th, 2011 at 8:32 pm

    When I was child I read about the solar system in a magazine.
    I saw the paintings of as they were the planets.
    I high curiosity everything. how know this?.
    These 40 years you were replying to my curiosity,
    with every mission to the space were fulfilling my dream of knowing.
    Amy,I thank and congratulate them on this mission, WISE turned out perfect .
    the entire team deserves great recognition for their efforts.


  5. REEM-Series Says:
    February 7th, 2011 at 11:02 pm

    What was the main reason for putting WISE into hibernation, i am totally disagree from you.
    Thank you for post…

    Amy Mainzer responds:

    WISE was put into hibernation because it successfully fulfilled all of the science objectives that were agreed upon between our science team and NASA. Having fulfilled its objectives, you can think of the spacecraft as having received an “honorable discharge.”

  6. Jon Kidd Says:
    February 8th, 2011 at 10:41 pm

    Hello, We should really get on this solar paneling of the moon. It would create a phenomenal amount of work, and with the promise of “free” energy we could go far as a species. Maybe even feed the poor and satisfy the rich at the same time. The moon is filled with resources, including helium 3 which we already have reactors capable of harnessing the energy released from this rare element.

    Thank you, Also I would join the army if this became the focus of our country. I would enlist for this.

  7. David Ruben Says:
    February 16th, 2011 at 12:07 am

    I read an article today about a proposed gas giant planet dubbed Tyche, hypothesized to orbit within the Oort Cloud, and thought by some astrophysicists to be the cause of certain long period comets. The article mentioned that data collected by the WISE spacecraft could prove the existence of this planet.

    According to the article, the planet is hypothesized to be several times larger than Jupiter. I know that Jupiter is very hot. Consequently, it must radiate significantly in the infrared range. Are the infrared sensors aboard WISE sensitive enough to detect a gas giant planet as far away as the Oort Cloud, or perhaps by the absence of a detectable infrared source, disprove the existence of such a planet?

    Amy Mainzer responds:

    If such an object exists (which we don’t know one way or another yet), it could be something similar in MASS to Jupiter. But for various reasons, such an object would actually have a similar radius (size) as Jupiter.

    WISE does carry IR sensors, and the mission is very good at finding cool brown dwarfs (see Mainzer et al. 2011 Astrophysical Journal for a description of the first one discovered). It will take years of processing and analyzing the WISE data to see whether or not there is evidence of a gas giant in the outer solar system. That process is only just beginning.

  8. guest9501331236 Says:
    February 26th, 2011 at 8:09 pm

    Very interesting! Thanks!

  9. Arvind Sharma Says:
    February 27th, 2011 at 7:24 am



    It was heart-warming to read the rich tribute paid to the all the team who worked on this programme.

    Could you please tell if the WISE data or subset of the data will be released to the Universities for research?

  10. Daniel Sterling Sample Says:
    March 10th, 2011 at 5:59 pm

    Dear Dr. Mainzer,
    I look forward to your lecture on NEOWISE March 18, 2011, 7:00pm at the Vosloh Auditorium in Pasadena. I have spent the past 6 years trying to persuade NASA to preserve the SPACE SHUTTLE ORBITERS as a prototype for future manned spacecraft design, rather than ship them off to museums. “Mothballing” the fleet until our economy recovers and NASA gets back “on track” would save us tens of billions in R&D and reverse engineering in the future.

    Petty politics in Congress and The White House are crushing any intelligent decision regarding manned space travel and NASA role in it. Building on the SPACE SHUTTLE ORBITERS is our best bet for keeping the dream alive for our next generation of scientists and engineers.

    As NASA flounders, Boeing and the USAF are “partners” in advancing aerospace research beyond LEO, doing what NASA is unable to do because of underfunding and lack of creative leadership. Politics, politics, politics…
    and JPL is not immune to the same destructive pressures….

    Daniel Sterling Sample, just Dan please…
    Los Angeles

  11. Pablo de Argentina Says:
    March 27th, 2011 at 7:32 am

    Hola! Respeto su trabajo pero pongo en duda todo lo que dicen. Estoy 100% seguro de que ustedes (NASA+gobierno de USA y todas sus agencias+ejercito USA) saben miles de cosas que no dan a conocer al publico. Dudo que este hibernando WISE. Seguro que lo estan usando para seguir a Tyche o la enana marron que se aproxima a la Tierra y llegara en diciembre 2012. INFORMEN! TENEMOS DERECHO A SABER! USTEDES SON TAN HIJOS DE LA TIERRA COMO NOSOTROS (el resto de la poblacion humana mundial). Y si no informan con tiempo, espero que todos sus refugios y salidas del planeta programadas no les sirvan para salvarse. La humanidad no se mereceria continuar con seres humanos que no ayuden al resto de sus especie!!!

  12. Sirius Says:
    August 11th, 2011 at 2:46 pm

    Recien me entero de este blog, y de todo lo que me he perdido leer… (tendre que ponerme a leer entonces), Felicitaciones Dra Amy Maizer por todo lo que han logrado, es una pena que los transbordadores vayan a estar parados por un tiempo, porque solo sera temporal esto, es emocionante, es casi como lo fue en la edad del descubrimiento (obviando las distancias claro), salir y descubrir nuevas cosas, no puede haberse nacido en una edad mejor.
    Pablo, deja de pensar que en Diciembre caera un “Planeta X” a la tierra, eso se llama paranoia, en todo caso, es mas probable y tal vez mas realista que mueras de viejo antes de que caiga un asteroide en tu casa (XD).

  13. Ricardo Says:
    September 29th, 2011 at 11:06 am

    Dear Dr. Mainzer,

    Just finished watching NASA TV on WISE Nation. Congratulations for such good work!

    Was wondering if you could answer 2 questions. Excuse my ignorance on the subject :)

    1) Being that WISE works with Infra-Red technology. Are there asteroids/stars/comets that do not generate heat and therefore will not be able to be seen thru WISE?

    2) What would I have to study to do what you do :)

    Ricardo Dacosta
    Yogic Chai

    P.S. Don’t know much about astronomy, although Im very interested, but I sure make the best Chai tea on our solar system ;-)

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