NASA’s asteroid hunter discovers 72 near-Earth objects in two years (VIDEO)

NASA’s asteroid hunting spacecraft, NEOWISE, has made 72 new discoveries of near-Earth objects since it re-started its mission in December 2013.

The Near-Earth Object Wide-field Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) has characterized a total of 439 near-Earth objects (NEOs) including asteroids and comets over the two-year period, according to the latest survey data release. Most of these had been identified previously.

Eight of those discovered in the past year have been classified as potentially hazardous asteroids based on their size and proximity to Earth.

The survey uses infrared to detect and characterize the NEOs and has measured more than 19,000 asteroids and comets at infrared wavelengths.

"By studying the distribution of lighter and darker-colored material, NEOWISE data gives us a better understanding of the origins of the NEOs, originating from either different parts of the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter or the icier comet populations," said James Bauer, the mission’s deputy principal investigator at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The spacecraft was originally launched in December 2009 under the name Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) but was placed in hibernation in 2011 after its primary mission was completed.

It was relaunched at the end of 2013 with a new name (NEOWISE) and a new mission -  to assist NASA's efforts to identify the population of potentially hazardous near-Earth objects.