Thursday, December 10, 2009

newest spacecraft

NASA’s newest spacecraft is currently perched atop a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket at Vandenberg Air Force Base, north of Santa Barbara, Calif. It is scheduled to roar into space at dawn on Dec. 11, at 6:09:33 a.m. PST (9:09:33 a.m. EST), on a short journey to its final Earth-circling orbit 52astro5 kilometers (326 miles) overhead.

After a one-month checkout, the mission will spend the next nine months mapping the cosmos in infrared light. It will cover the whole sky one-and-a-half times, snapping millions of pictures of everything from near-Earth asteroids to faraway galaxies bursting with new stars.

“The last time we mapped the whole sky at these particular infrared wavelengths was 26 years ago,” said Edward (Ned) Wright of UCLA, who is the principal investigator of the mission. “Infrared technology has come a long way since then. The old all-sky infrared pictures were like impressionist paintings — now, we’ll have images that look like actual photographs.”