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posted by takyon on Sunday February 21 2016, @05:15PM   Printer-friendly
from the arcsecond-arcfirst dept.

NASA's working on a telescope with an even wider eye than Hubble

NASA said Thursday that it's getting down to business building a new telescope that could get us a step closer to finding E.T. and perhaps reveal other mysteries of the universe along the way.

The Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) will have capabilities that make it similar to taking Hubble's telescope and putting a panoramic lens on it. It will carry a wide-field instrument allowing it to capture images with the same depth and quality as Hubble, but covering 100 times its field of view.

In addition to having such a wide view of parts of space, WFIRST will also sport a coronagraph that can block the glare from individual stars to better characterize not only planets orbiting those, but the atmospheres of planets as well.

"It will also develop technology that will pave the way for finding and characterizing Earth-like planets in the future," said Nikole Lewis of the Space Telescope Science Institute in a statement.

Much of the heavy lifting of identifying exoplanets has been shouldered by the Kepler Space Telescope, which is now far past its prime and continues operating in a mechanically crippled condition. But that will soon change with the impending launches of the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) and the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), set for 2017 and 2018, respectively.

WFIRST will follow those two into space in the 2020s, succeeding current workhorses like Hubble, Kepler and the Spitzer Space Telescope. Combined, they will create a next-generation three-pronged attack to find new planets, including Earth "cousins" that could be habitable.

The current running total of confirmed exoplanets stands at just over 2,000, but NASA expects that WFIRST alone will net thousands more exoplanet discoveries just from staring at the crowded central region of our own Milky Way galaxy.


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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 22 2016, @03:02AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 22 2016, @03:02AM (#307971)

    Do astronomers need to correct for the various motions of the earth (rotation, revolution, solar system motion, galaxy motion) when estimating how far away stars are? It seems like all of these would affect redshift.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 22 2016, @04:10AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 22 2016, @04:10AM (#308004)

    It depends upon what you're looking at. Redshift tells you the radial speed of the object toward/away from you and not how far away it is. There are other techniques for that (such as parallax or comparing to "standard candles"). The change in wavelength you get from the Doppler effect goes as the ratio of the radial speed to the speed of light. When you're looking at the wavelength shift in spectral lines from stars, the speed of the Earth is pretty small compared to the ability to determine exactly what wavelength you're looking at. However, when you have a very sensitive detector and you're looking at the cosmic background radiation, you can detect these motions rather easily and you need to correct for them because they become the dominant signal you see. Some nice info here [ucla.edu] (including proper attribution for its prediction and detection).

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 22 2016, @02:47PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 22 2016, @02:47PM (#308164)

      Thanks, that is a very nice site. Informative, peppered with insider comments, little formatting BS, etc.