[meteorite-list] NASA Introduces New, Wider Set of Eyes on the Universe (WFIRST)
From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Fri, 19 Feb 2016 14:56:47 -0800 (PST)
NASA Introduces New, Wider Set of Eyes on the Universe
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
February 18, 2016
After years of preparatory studies, NASA is formally starting an astrophysics
mission designed to help unlock the secrets of the universe -- the Wide
Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST).
With a view 100 times bigger than that of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope,
WFIRST will aid researchers in their efforts to unravel the secrets of
dark energy and dark matter, and explore the evolution of the cosmos.
It also will discover new worlds outside our solar system and advance
the search for worlds that could be suitable for life.
NASA's Agency Program Management Council, which evaluates the agency's
programs and projects on content, risk management and performance, made
the decision to move forward with the mission on Wednesday.
The mission is led by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt,
Maryland. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, will
manage the mission's 7.8-foot (2.4-meter) telescope and deliver the coronagraph,
an instrument to help image and characterize planets around other stars.
The Infrared Processing and Analysis Center (IPAC) at the California Institute
of Technology in Pasadena will share science center activities with the
Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, under Goddard leadership.
"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 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."
WFIRST 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
It will carry a Wide Field Instrument for surveys, and a Coronagraph Instrument
designed to block the glare of individual stars and reveal 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
"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. "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
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. The survey will net thousands of
new exoplanets similar in size and distance from their star as those in
our own solar system, complementing the work started by NASA's Kepler
mission and the upcoming work of the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite.
Employing multiple techniques, astronomers also will use WFIRST to track
how dark energy and dark matter have affected the evolution of our universe.
Dark energy is a mysterious, negative pressure that has been speeding
up the expansion of the universe. Dark matter is invisible material that
makes up most of the matter in our universe.
By measuring the distances of thousands of supernovae, astronomers can
map in detail how cosmic expansion has increased with time. WFIRST also
can precisely measure the shapes, positions and distances of millions
of galaxies to track the distribution and growth of cosmic structures,
including galaxy clusters and the dark matter accompanying them.
"In addition to its exciting capabilities for dark energy and exoplanets,
WFIRST will provide a treasure trove of exquisite data for all astronomers,"
said Neil Gehrels, WFIRST project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight
Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "This mission will survey the universe
to find the most interesting objects out there."
Twelve science investigation teams were recently selected by NASA to help
optimize science returns for the mission. Olivier Dor? of JPL leads one
of the teams. His group will focus on cosmology and the best methods for
WFIRST to measure and test the nature of dark energy.
WFIRST is slated to launch in the mid-2020s. The observatory will begin
operations after travelling to a gravitational balance point known as
Earth-sun L2, which is located about one million miles from Earth in a
direction directly opposite the sun.
For more information about NASA's WFIRST mission, visit:
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California
whitney.clavin at jpl.nasa.gov
NASA Headquarters, Washington
felicia.chou at nasa.gov
Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
lynn.chandler-1 at nasa.gov
Received on Fri 19 Feb 2016 05:56:47 PM PST