The NEOWISE spacecraft by NASA is specially designed to study the asteroids. It collected data from over 100 such asteroids near to earth.
Earlier known by the name WISE mission or the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer mission, the spacecraft was built for infrared imaging of the sky. It was done with the purpose of studying the various heavenly bodies in the sky. Launched in December 2009, the spacecraft completed two years of its mission and went dormant for another two years. In 2013, it was renamed as Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer with a new mission. Now its mission includes identifying and analysing the near earth objects.
The NEOWISE spacecraft has thermal sensors which help it to make infrared observations. It is currently analysing asteroids in the asteroid belt for their surface characteristics, size, orbit etc. In a recent announcement by NASA, the spacecraft is set to collect data from 100 such asteroids in the asteroid belt.
The archive of the spacecraft has data which reveals the surface compositions of the main belt asteroids. Using physical modelling of the thermal data received from the spacecraft, the scientists have found out about the surface regolith. It reveals that due to thermal cracking, the fine grains of dust and broken rocks have been deposited on the asteroids’ surface. The physical modelling of the data by the spacecraft has helped to reveal more information and findings than ever possible. This is an important finding as it has concluded the fact that there is very little dust on the surface of the asteroids.
Thermophysical modelling is one such way of analysis which scientists use to analyse the asteroids and their characteristics. The thermal data provided by the spacecraft has been very useful in taking the study one step further. Not only that, the data has helped to fasten the rate of making models for the number of asteroids.
The scientists also explained the reason behind it. According to them, the asteroids have high rates of rotation and low gravity. It makes it difficult for dust to settle down on the surface. Another reason is that the asteroids do not undergo much thermal cracking thereby the creation of fine grains of regolith. The spacecraft also did a remarkable job in collecting data on the size of the asteroids. The results were rechecked by the scientist team and they found that the results matched.