WISE is designed to capture everything from near-Earth objects to distant black holes.
NASA on Monday successfully launched a space telescope designed to create a highly detailed map of the heavens and spot comets and asteroids that could pose a threat to life on Earth.
NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, lifted off from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base atop a Delta II rocket at 6:09 a.m. PST.
"WISE thundered overhead, lighting up the pre-dawn skies," said William Irace, mission project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena, Calif.
"All systems are looking good, and we are on our way to seeing the entire infrared sky better than ever before," said Irace.
WISE will use an infrared camera to map the cosmos.
The mission calls for the unmanned spacecraft to cover the entire sky one-and-a-half times, until its frozen coolant runs out. NASA hopes it will capture everything from near-Earth asteroids to distant galaxies teeming with stars.
"The last time we mapped the whole sky at these particular infrared wavelengths was 26 years ago," noted UCLA's Edward Wright, who is principal mission manager.
"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," said Wright.
WISE is designed to provide information about the size, composition, and texture of near-Earth objects such as comets and asteroids.
"We can help protect our Earth by learning more about the diversity of potentially hazardous asteroids and comets," said Amy Mainzer, deputy project scientist for the mission at JPL.
WISE will also attempt to document the cycle of life in the Universe, as it will capture faraway images of star-hatching galaxies and ravenous, planet-eating black holes.
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