The first years of the existence of the Universe are hidden to the human eye behind clouds of hot gas and subatomic particles. But the new Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) can finally uncover some of the greatest secrets of the young Universe. Moreover, the researchers do not exclude that the launch of WFIRST will help answer the famous question posed by the Italian physicist Enrico Fermi “where is everything?” As reported on the official website of NASA, space agency experts recently approved the development and testing of equipment. One of the main tasks of the new space telescope will be to study the Universe in the infrared range, which should help in the search for elusive dark energy.
WFIRST – a worthy successor to Hubble?
Yes. The potential of the new space telescope is huge – with it, scientists hope to obtain data on exoplanets, to explore the distant Universe. and finally unravel the secrets of dark matter and dark energy. Thanks to the latest technology, WFIRST is able to detect weak infrared signals over long distances, as well as create panoramas of deep space. In the past, not a single telescope could look so deep into the abyss of the cosmic ocean. Ultimately, the telescope is intended to replace the bastion of space science – Hubble. It is thanks to this legendary telescope that some of the most incredible discoveries about our Universe were possible, including the discovery of the farthest star known to science, and the fact that the Universe is expanding much faster than we thought.
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The new telescope will be equipped with a mirror the same size as the Hubble telescope, but with a wider view of space. Recall that Hubble was launched in April 1990, but thanks to five service missions, the telescope is still working. In turn, WFIRST is able to visualize areas in the sky 100 times superior to those explored by Hubble. And this even though both telescopes are equipped with a 2.4-meter mirror to look at the universe through it. NASA called the new telescope a cousin of Hubble.
In search of dark energy
By observing the universe with high-tech tools like Hubble and WFIRST, astronomers hope to find out why the universe begins to expand with acceleration. At the heart of this mystery, as our regular readers probably know, lies dark energy – a mysterious form of energy, which is believed to be about 70% of the universe. Nevertheless, it remains completely elusive and invisible to us, whatever we do. But today everything can be changed. WFIRST aims to make the most accurate measurements of how dark energy and dark matter affect the Universe by observing cosmic phenomena in action, including supernovae and the formation of clusters of galaxies.
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The observations will then be used to measure the expansion rate of the universe. “To understand how the Universe evolved from hot, uniform gas into stars, planets, and people, you need to study the beginning of this process by looking at the early days of the Universe,” said Jeffrey Crook, NASA’s first fellow at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.
In search of exoplanets
Since the first exoplanet was discovered in 1992, scientists have been looking for outlandish alien worlds and signs of life. To date, we have discovered about 4000 exoplanets orbiting various stars. We learned about most of them thanks to the NASA Kepler mission and the Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) transit satellite. With the help of Hubble's cousin, scientists hope to find potentially inhabited exoplanets.
According to the Inverse publication, the launch of the WFIRST space telescope will take place in the mid-2020s, and the maximum predicted cost of the telescope is about $ 4 billion. Work on WFIRST will last until September 2020 within the budget for the current fiscal year. However, the NASA budget for 2021 involves the suspension of WFIRST funding in order to focus on the James Webb telescope, which is scheduled to launch in March 2021. Well, we will hope that the future of the WFIRST space telescope will not be in question.