NASA has named its next-generation space telescope, the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), which is currently under development. This honor will go to Nancy Grace Roman, NASA’s first chief astronomer, who paved the way for space telescopes focused on the broader exploration of the universe. And today, NASA is one step closer to launching the telescope into space, completing a ground system test for the Roman Telescope. The agency also showed the angle of view of the new telescope and compared it with the Hubble telescope.
The newly named Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, or the Roman Space Telescope for short, is due to launch in the mid-2020s. He will explore long-standing astronomical mysteries such as the power of the expansion of the universe, as well as look for distant planets outside our solar system.
Considered the “mother” of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, launched 30 years ago, Nancy Grace Roman has tirelessly advocated for new instruments that would allow scientists to study the wider universe right from space. She left a huge legacy in the scientific community when she died in 2018.
It was through the leadership and vision of Nancy Grace that Roman NASA pioneered astrophysics and launched the Hubble, the world’s most powerful and productive space telescope. I can’t think of a better name for WFIRST, which will be the successor to NASA’s Hubble and Webb Telescopes.
Jim Bridenstein, NASA Administrator
Former Senator Barbara Mikulski, who worked with NASA on the Hubble Space Telescopes and WFIRST, emphasized the appropriateness of naming her new telescope, WFIRST, in honor of Dr. Nancy Roman, Hubble’s “mother,” during the celebration of 100 years of US women’s suffrage.
The Roman Space Telescope will become NASA’s observatory dedicated to addressing critical issues in dark energy, exoplanets, and infrared astrophysics. The telescope has a primary mirror 2.4 meters in diameter and the same dimensions as the Hubble primary mirror. Roman has two instruments: a wide-angle instrument and a Coronagraph technology demonstration instrument. A coronograph is a telescope that allows you to observe the solar corona outside of eclipses. It is known that the solar corona emits much weaker than the solar disk, so it can be seen with the naked eye only during a total solar eclipse when the moon’s disk covers the solar disk.
The wide-format instrument will have a field of view that is 100 times larger than the Hubble infrared instrument, allowing it to capture more of the sky with less observation time. The Coronagraph instrument will perform high-contrast imaging and spectroscopy of selected neighboring exoplanets.
One area of science that will benefit from the extensive mission data is microlensing research. Gravitational lensing is an observational effect that arises from the fact that the presence of mass deforms the fabric of space-time. The effect is especially visible around very massive objects such as black holes and entire galaxies. But even relatively small objects like stars and planets cause a noticeable degree of curvature called microlensing.
The Roman Microlensing Survey will also reveal hundreds of other strange and interesting space objects. The novel discovers starless planets that roam the galaxy like outcasts; brown dwarfs that are too massive to be classified as planets but not massive enough to ignite like stars; neutron stars and black holes.
Microlensing events are extremely rare and require extensive observation. The novel will observe hundreds of millions of stars every 15 minutes for months in a row, which no other space telescope can do, creating an unprecedented stream of new information.
In February, the WFIRST project passed an important software and technical milestone, providing the mission with an official green light to begin hardware development and testing. With the passage of this final milestone, the team will begin finalizing the mission design by creating engineering test blocks and models to ensure the project will withstand extreme conditions during launch and in space.