Washington: NASA has started work on a new telescope with a view 100 times bigger than that of Hubble Space Telescope that may help unravel the mysteries of dark matter and advance the search for alien life.
The Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) will aid researchers in their efforts to explore the evolution of the cosmos, NASA said.
It also will discover new worlds outside our solar system and advance the search for worlds that could be suitable for life, it said.
The mission is led by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre in Maryland. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, will manage the mission’s 2.4-meter telescope and deliver the coronagraph, an instrument to help image and characterise planets around other 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 in Washington.
“This mission uniquely combines the ability to discover and characterise 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,” said Grunsfeld.
WFIRST, slated to launch in the mid-2020s, is the agency’s next major astrophysics observatory, following the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope in 2018.
The WFIRST observatory will survey large regions of the sky in near-infrared light to answer fundamental questions about the structure and evolution of the universe, and expand our knowledge of planets beyond our solar system – known as exoplanets, NASA said.
It will carry a Wide Field Instrument for surveys, and a Coronagraph Instrument designed to block the glare of individual stars and unveil the faint light of planets orbiting around them.
By blocking the light of the host star, the Coronagraph Instrument will enable detailed measurements of the chemical makeup of planetary atmospheres.
Comparing these data across many worlds will allow scientists to better understand the origin and physics of these atmospheres, and search for chemical signs of environments suitable for life.
“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,” said Paul Hertz, director of NASA’s Astrophysics Division in Washington.
“The coronagraph will provide revolutionary science, capturing the faint, but direct images of distant gaseous worlds and super-Earths,” said Hertz.
The telescope’s sensitivity and wide view will enable a large-scale search for exoplanets by monitoring the brightness of millions of stars in the crowded central region of our galaxy.