NASA launched its Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) space telescope Monday morning, a device which will be able to survey the entire sky in six months.


A Delta II rocket carrying the WISE space telescope lifts off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. ((NASA TV))

The WISE telescope launched aboard a Delta II rocket at from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 9:09 ET.

The satellite will orbit the Earth over the north and south poles and will detect objects that are difficult to see from the ground, including asteroids, cool stars such as brown dwarfs, and galaxies that shine brightly in infrared light.

"The last time we mapped the whole sky at these particular infrared wavelengths was 26 years ago," said Edward Wright of UCLA, 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," he said in a statement.

Once in orbit, the valves in the telescope's cooling system will automatically open, venting super-cooled hydrogen into space.


An artist's concept of NASA's WISE space telescope. ((NASA/JPL))

"By venting the hydrogen to space, we cool our instrument down to extremely low temperatures so that the eyes of WISE won't be blinded by their own heat," said William Irace, the mission's project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Because WISE has a limited supply of hydrogen coolant, the satellite's mission will last only about 10 months, enough time to survey the entire sky about one-and-a-half times.