Since the NEOWISE space telescope started its mission in 2013, it has discovered a once-in-lifetime comet, as well a observing more than 3,000 near earth objects. It looks like eventually this space telescope will come to an end.
Scientists have discovered solar activity is causing NEOWISE too fall out of orbit. By 2025, the spacecraft is expected to drop low enough it’s our atmosphere that it ill become unusable. After that, it will reenter our atmosphere and entirely burn up.
Every 11 years, the Sun has a period of increased activity that peaks during a period called the solar maximum. During this time, solar flares and coronal mass ejections become more frequent. They heat up our planet’s atmosphere, causing it to expand. With the sun approaching it’s next maximum soon, NEOWISE will no longer be able to maintain orbit above our planet.
“The mission has planned for this day a long time. After several years of calm, the Sun is waking back up. We are at the mercy of solar activity, and with no means to keep us in orbit, NEOWISE is now slowly spiraling back to Earth.”Joseph Masiero, NEOWISE’s deputy principal investigator
Managed by NASA‘s Jet Propolsion Laboaratory, the spacecraft repurposed a different mission in 2009: the wide-field infrared survey explorer. Data from both WISE and NEOWISE has been used to study distant galaxies, stars, comets, asteroids, and more.
Image Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech