NASA Origins Program WIRE: The Wide-Field Infrared Explorer  

WIRE Telescope   The Wide-Field Infrared Explorer (WIRE) is a spaceborne, cryogenically-cooled imaging telescope designed to explore the evolution of starburst galaxies and to search for protogalaxies.  WIRE was selected by NASA in 1994 as its fifth Small Explorer mission, with launch scheduled for February 1999.  The WIRE mission consists of a 4-month survey at mid-infrared wavelengths (12 and 25 microns) at sensitivity levels bounded by the telescope's confusion limit.  WIRE is the first mission in the Origins program. 

WIRE is designed to survey 1000 square degrees of sky and detect sources that are up to 1000 times fainter than those found in the IRAS Faint Source Catalog.  This enormous increase in sensitivity is the same as realized by going from a 12-inch backyard telescope to the huge 10-m Keck telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii.  Such a large increase in sensitivity over a large area of sky may not again be achieved in the infrared for many decades.

The survey will result in a sample of at least 50,000 galaxies, most of which are undergoing a rapid burst of star formation. By counting the number of sources and studying their infrared color, WIRE scientists will be able to uncover the evolutionary history of starburst galaxies out to redshifts of up to 0.5, corresponding to a lookback time of about 5 billion years.  This sample may contain the history of most of the star formation that has occurred during the past 5 billion years. 

WIRE will also be sensitive to ultraluminous starburst galaxies in their formative stages in the early universe (redshifts up to 3).  The WIRE sample will likely contain at least 1000 galaxies beyond a redshift of 1.  WIRE may detect extreme bursts of star formation in protogalaxies at even higher redshifts. The WIRE survey may reveal our first clear view of the history of galaxy formation.

Structures found in the distribution of galaxies in the WIRE images will help to reveal the history and nature of the mass distribution of the entire universe from its first beginnings.

WIRE Deep Field  

Simulation of a single WIRE deep field. Stars are blue, and galaxies (most of which are undergoing a burst of star formation) range from green to red.   The image measures 33 arcminutes on a side, or about the diameter of the full Moon.




This page was last updated on Wednesday, September 3, 1997