The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA, is planning to launch a next-generation space telescope that will provide the largest picture of the universe ever seen, with the same depth and clarity as the Hubble Space Telescope.
The Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) is scheduled to launch in the mid-2020s. It will function as Hubble's wide-eyed cousin, according to NASA.
• The Telescope’s cameras will be just as sensitive as Hubble's cameras.
• However, its 300-megapixel Wide Field Instrument will image the sky area 100 times larger.
• The development means that a single WFIRST image will have details equivalent to that of 100 pictures taken from Hubble.
• The mission's wide field of view will allow it to generate never-before-seen big pictures of the universe.
• The pictures will in turn help astronomers explore some of the greatest mysteries of the cosmos, including why the expansion of the universe seems to be accelerating.
Two possible explanations for the expansion of the universe are as follows:
Dark energy: An unexplained pressure that currently makes up 68 per cent of the total content of the cosmos and may have been changing over the history of the universe.
The breakdown of Einstein's general theory of relativity across large swaths of the universe. Einstein's theory of general relativity predicted that the space-time around Earth would be not only warped but also twisted by the planet's rotation.
WFIRST will have the power to test both of these ideas. To learn more about dark energy, WFIRST will use its powerful 2.4-metre mirror and Wide Field Instrument to do two things:
- Map how matter is structured and distributed throughout the cosmos.
- Measure how the universe has expanded over time.
In the process, the mission will study galaxies across cosmic time, from the present back to when the universe was only half a billion years old, or about four per cent of its current age.
According to WFIRST Project Scientist Jeffrey Kruk, in order to understand how the universe evolved from a hot, uniform gas into stars, planets, and people, we need to study the beginnings of that process by looking at the early days of the universe.
The Wide Field Instrument will also allow WFIRST to measure the matter in hundreds of millions of distant galaxies through a phenomenon dictated by Einstein's relativity theory.
Massive objects like galaxies curve space-time in a way that bends light passing near them, creating a distorted, magnified view of far-off galaxies behind them. Using this magnifying glass effect, called weak gravitational lensing, WFIRST will paint a broad picture of how matter is structured throughout the universe, allowing scientists to study the matter further and get their answers.