The Hubble Space Telescope has been in orbit for years now and has made some major discoveries during its life. Hubble is set to be replaced by the James Webb Space Telescope and NASA is looking past the James Webb to the more distant future. NASA is set to kick off a new mission called the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope or WFIRST. WFIRST will take a much larger view of the universe than Hubble was capable of; NASA says that WFIRST will have a view 100 times as large as Hubble. According to NASA the wider view will help scientists to unravel mysteries of dark energy, dark matter, and to explore the cosmos.
WFIRST will be used to search for planets outside our solar system that could be suitable for life to flourish. The decision to move forward with WFIRST mission was made on Wednesday of this week. WFIRST will be the next major astrophysics laboratory for scientists and would launch after the James Webb Space Telescope launches in 2018.
“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 NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. “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 have wide-field instruments for surveys and a coronagraph to block the light of the host star and reveal the faint glow of planets orbiting the distant stars. The coronagraph will allow the WFIRST instruments to measure chemical makeup of atmospheres of distant planets with great detail. WFIRST is set to launch in the mid-2020 range and will be placed in orbit at Earth-sun L2 about a million miles from Earth and opposite the sun.