NASA has officially named its next planet hunter. Previously known as the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), the project has now been named the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope – or simply, the Roman Space Telescope – after NASA’s first chief astronomer, who has often been referred to as the Mother of Hubble.
The Roman Space Telescope is set to launch in the mid-2020s, as the successor to the aging Hubble. While it sports the same size mirror – measuring 2.4 m (7.9 ft) wide – it uses a wide field instrument to examine a patch of sky that’s 100 times larger than Hubble is capable of.
Watching the heavens in infrared, the Roman Space Telescope has a few primary goals. The first is to search for and study exoplanets, using spectroscopy and an experimental coronagraph instrument to take high contrast images of these worlds. It will also investigate dark energy, the mysterious force that appears to be causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate. Roman may also help study dark matter and a range of other astrophysical questions.
Since it will be continuing much of the work of Hubble, it makes sense then that the new telescope will bear the name of a woman who played such a vital role in its predecessor.
As NASA’s first chief astronomer, Nancy Grace Roman set up a committee in the 1960s to make the case for a revolutionary new space telescope, before going on to convince NASA and the US Congress to make the project a priority. Roman passed away in 2018.
“It is because of Nancy Grace Roman’s leadership and vision that NASA became a pioneer in astrophysics and launched Hubble, the world’s most powerful and productive space telescope,” says NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “I can think of no better name for WFIRST, which will be the successor to NASA’s Hubble and Webb Telescopes.”
The Roman Space Telescope has already received the green light to begin development and testing. However this likely won’t begin until after the fiscal year 2021, because NASA plans to focus its attention and budget on getting the long-delayed James Webb Space Telescope finished first.
The project is described in the video below.
NASA’s Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope: Broadening Our Cosmic Horizons
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