Among NEOWISE's major contributions to asteroid science is refining the size of many known asteroids. In its second year alone, 84% of the 207 near-Earth asteroids NEOWISE observed were missing precise diameters and albedos (brightness) until it did measurements.
"Using visible wavelengths of light, it is difficult to tell if an asteroid is big and dark, or bright and small, because both combinations reflect the same amount of light," Carrie Nugent, a NEOWISE scientist at the California Institute of Technology, explained in a 2015 NASA press release.
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"But when you look at an asteroid in the infrared with NEOWISE, the amount of infrared light corresponds with how big the asteroid is, and with some thermal models on a computer, you can figure out how big the asteroids are."
The new paper summarizing NEOWISE's second year was led by Nugent and co-authored by NEOWISE principal investigator Amy Mainzer. Both were unavailable for interviews before this article's publication date due to work on a large project, they told Discovery News.