NASA has unveiled plans for a powerful new telescope with a view more than 100 times wider than Hubble.
The Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) is designed to help researchers unravel the secrets of dark energy and dark matter, and explore the evolution of the universe, according to NASA. “It also will discover new worlds outside our solar system and advance the search for worlds that could be suitable for life,” explained the space agency, in a statement released Thursday.
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NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., is leading the WFIRST mission, with the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. managing the 7.8 foot telescope. The Jet Propulsion Lab will also deliver the cornograph, which helps image and characterize planets around stars.
"WFIRST has the potential to open our eyes to the wonders of the universe, much the same way Hubble has," said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate at its headquarters in Washington. "This mission uniquely combines the ability to discover and characterize planets beyond our own solar system with the sensitivity and optics to look wide and deep into the universe in a quest to unravel the mysteries of dark energy and dark matter."
The Hubble space telescope, which was launched by NASA in 1990, celebrated its 25th anniversary last year. The telescope is operated by NASA and the European Space Agency.
NASA expects to launch WFIRST in the mid-2020s. The space telescope will be the agency’s next major astrophysics observatory, following the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope in 2018.
The new telescope will survey large parts of the sky in near-infrared light, according to NASA, answering questions about the evolution of the universe and broadening our knowledge about exoplanets situated outside our solar system.
"WFIRST is designed to address science areas identified as top priorities by the astronomical community," said Paul Hertz, director of NASA's Astrophysics Division in Washington, in the statement. "The Wide-Field Instrument will give the telescope the ability to capture a single image with the depth and quality of Hubble, but covering 100 times the area. The coronagraph will provide revolutionary science, capturing the faint, but direct images of distant gaseous worlds and super-Earths."
The Hubble space telescope recently helped astronomers find one of the largest-ever black holes in giant galaxy NGC 4889, some 300 million light years away.