LOS ANGELES, April 14 (Xinhua) -- NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission released the first bundle of data on hundreds of millions of galaxies, stars and asteroids on Thursday, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) said.
"Today, WISE is taking the first major step in meeting its primary goal of delivering the mission's trove of objects to astronomers," JPL said in a news release.
Data from the first 57 percent of the sky surveyed is accessible through an online public archive, allowing astronomers across the globe to sift through numerous galaxies, stars and asteroids, said JPL in Pasadena, Los Angeles.
The complete survey, with improved data processing, will be available in the spring of 2012, according to JPL.
"Starting today thousands of new eyes will be looking at WISE data, and I expect many surprises," said Edward (Ned) Wright of University of California-Los Angeles, the mission's principal investigator.
The mission's nearby discoveries included 20 comets, more than 33,000 asteroids between Mars and Jupiter, and 133 near-Earth objects (NEOs), which are those asteroids and comets with orbits that come within 28 million miles (about 45 million kilometers) of Earth's path around the sun, according to JPL.
"We are excited that the preliminary data contain millions of newfound objects," said Fengchuan Liu, the project manager for WISE at JPL. "But the mission is not yet over -- the real treasure is the final catalog available a year from now, which will have twice as many sources, covering the entire sky and reaching even deeper into the universe than today's release."
WISE was launched into space on Dec. 14, 2009 on a mission to map the entire sky in infrared light with greatly improved sensitivity and resolution over its predecessors. From its polar orbit, it scanned the skies about one-and-a-half times while collecting images taken at four infrared wavelengths of light. It took more than 2.7 million images over the course of its mission, capturing objects ranging from faraway galaxies to asteroids relatively close to Earth.
The satellite went into hibernation in early February of this year.
Astronomers will use WISE's infrared data to hunt for hidden oddities, and to study trends in large populations of known objects. Data from the mission are also critical for finding the best candidates for follow-up studies with other telescopes, including the European Space Agency's Herschel observatory, which has important NASA contributions, JPL said.