WFIRST could unravel the secrets of dark energy and dark matter and even help look for alien life.
NASA has announced that it will formally begin a new astrophysics mission with a top-secret weapon up their sleeves. According to a press release from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology, the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope, or WFIRST, is well underway.
The new telescope will put the infamous Hubble Space Telescope to shame. Its view will be 100 times larger than the Hubble’s, and will help NASA scientists learn more about the mysterious dark energy and dark matter that seems to inhabit much of the universe. Scientists will also use the telescope to continue the search for life outside of Earth, looking for habitable planets and other evidence that we may not be alone in the universe.
The decision to move forward with the project was made by NASA’s Agency Program Management Council, responsible for assessing the agency’s proposed projects on content, risk management and performance.
According to astronaut and administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at its Washington, DC headquarters, “WFIRST has the potential to open our eyes to the wonders of the universe, much the same way Hubble has. 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 will be launched on the heels of the James Webb Space Telescope in 2018. The observatory will scan large chunks of the sky in search of near-infrared light that would offer clues into how the universe is structured and how it evolved over time.
The telescope will be equipped with a Wide Field Instrument for surveying the sky, as well as a Coronograph Instrument that will block out the light from individual stars, revealing the exoplanets orbiting them. Researchers hope to scan the atmospheric makeup of planets in other solar systems to determine whether or not life could possibly exist elsewhere.