NASA /J PL-Caltech / UCLA
This image shows the Pleiades cluster of stars as seen through the eyes of WISE, or NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer. The mosaic contains a few hundred image frames — just a fraction of the more than 1 million WISE captured during its first complete survey of the sky in infrared light.
updated 2/17/2011 7:54:51 PM ET 2011-02-18T00:54:51

A prolific sky-mapping telescope that has spent more than a year scanning the heavens for asteroids, comets and other cosmic objects received its last command Thursday.

NASA shut down its WISE spacecraft – short for Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer — at 3 p.m. ET Thursday. The mission's principal investigator, Ned Wright of the University of California in Los Angeles, sent the final command to the now-hibernating spacecraft, according to an update from the WISE mission's official Twitter account.

"The WISE spacecraft will remain in hibernation without ground contacts awaiting possible future use," NASA officials said via Twitter.

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WISE launched on Dec. 14, 2009, to begin a 10-month mission to collect data to be stitched together into a composite map of the entire sky. The spacecraft surveyed the cosmos in infrared light, which allowed it to peer through dense layers of dust to capture stunning space photos of previously unseen objects in unprecedented detail.

In addition to spotting asteroids and comets, the $320 million space telescope is designed to detect the faint glow of distant objects, such as strangely cool brown dwarf stars.

Over the course of its mission, WISE scanned the sky 1 1/2 times, taking about 1.8 million images of asteroids, stars and galaxies. The spacecraft also spotted 19 previously unseen comets and more than 33,500 asteroids, including 120 near-Earth objects, which are objects with orbits that pass relatively close to Earth's own orbit around the sun.

In late September 2010, WISE ran out of the coolant needed to chill its infrared detectors.

The observatory then began an extended mission, dubbed the NEOWISE Post-Cryogenic Mission. Without coolant to prevent its instruments from warming up, WISE operated on two of its four detectors, training its eyes on objects within our solar system.

Since the spacecraft and telescope were in good condition before the mission's end, Wright proposed a three-month extension in order to complete the second half of the observatory's second sky survey. In May 2010, a NASA panel advised against the extension, however, which would have added $6.5 million to the program's cost.

After WISE's coolant ran out, mission scientists came up with an alternative plan – the NEOWISE mission –  to seek out near-Earth asteroids. That mission extension cost substantially less, about $400,000, NASA officials have said.

You can follow staff writer Denise Chow on Twitter@denisechow.

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Photos: Wonders from WISE

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  1. Do the cosmic chicken

    NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, also known as the WISE space telescope, took this infrared image of a star-forming cloud called the Lambda Centauri Nebula. The glowing cloud of gas and dust has been nicknamed the Running Chicken Nebula, due to its distinctive shape. The nebula is about 5,800 light-years from Earth, and it's home to a new cluster of stars born nearly 8 million years ago. (NASA / JPL-Caltech / WISE team) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Three-nebula circus

    This mosaic image taken by NASA’s WISE space telescope features three nebulas - the Flame Nebula, the Horsehead Nebula and NGC 2023 - that are part of the giant Orion Molecular Cloud. The Flame Nebula is sparked by the bright blue star seen to the right of the central cloud. The Horsehead Nebula appears here as a faint bump on the lower right side of the vertical dust ridge, and NGC 2023 is the bright circle in the lower half of the image. () Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Flaming star

    NASA's WISE telescope captured this view of a runaway star racing away from its original home, about 1,500 light-years from Earth. Seen here surrounded by a glowing cloud of gas and dust, the star AE Aurigae appears to be on fire. Appropriately, the cloud is called the Flaming Star Nebula. (NASA / JPL-Caltech / UCLA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Jellyfish in space

    This oddly colorful nebula is the supernova remnant IC 443. Also known as the Jellyfish Nebula, IC 443 is particularly interesting because it provides a look into how stellar explosions interact with their environment. IC 443, which is about 5,000 light-years from Earth, can be found near the star Eta Geminorum, which lies near Castor, one of the twins in the constellation Gemini. (NASA / JPL-Caltech / UCLA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Two faces of Andromeda

    One of WISE's first images highlighted the Andromeda Galaxy. The top image shows our next-door galaxy's older stellar population in shades of blue. The image was taken using the shortest-wavelength camera on WISE. You can clearly see a pronounced warp in the spiral arm on the upper left side of the galaxy's disk. Scientists believe the warp is the result of a collision with another galaxy. The bottom image is a mosaic created by combining data from all four of WISE's infrared detectors. Once again, shades of blue highlight mature stars. The yellow and red areas indicate where dust has been heated by newborn, massive stars. (NASA / JPL-Caltech / UCLA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Witness to starbirth

    The star-forming cloud known as NGC 3603 is teeming with gas, dust and massive newborn stars in this image from WISE. The sky-mapping telescope, which surveys the whole sky in infrared light, is particularly sensitive to the warm dust that permeates star-forming clouds like this one. The cluster contains some of the most massive stars known. (NASA / JPL-Caltech / UCLA) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Look! Up in the sky!

    Comet Siding Spring appears to streak across the sky like a superhero in this infrared image from WISE. The comet, also known as C/2007 Q3, was discovered in 2007 by observers in Australia. It made a close approach to Earth in October 2009 and is now heading back toward the outer reaches of the solar system. In this view, longer wavelengths of infrared light are red, and shorter wavelengths are blue. The comet appears red because it is 10 times cooler than the surrounding stars - for example, the bright blue star at lower left. (NASA / JPL-Caltech / UCLA) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Gathering of galaxies

    This galaxy cluster, called Fornax because of its location in a constellation of the same name, is 60 million light-years from Earth, making it one of the closest galaxy clusters to the Milky Way. Clusters are large families of galaxies that are gravitationally bound together, containing enough matter to pull even distant galaxies toward them. The center of the cluster is dominated by the galaxy known as NGC 1399, a large spheroidal galaxy whose light is almost exclusively from old stars and thus appears blue. The most spectacular member of Fornax is the galaxy known as NGC 1365, a giant barred spiral galaxy, located in the lower right of the mosaic. (NASA / JPL-Caltech / UCLA) Back to slideshow navigation
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