NASA reveals details about observatory for habitable worlds

NASA reveals details about observatory for habitable worlds

NASA reveals details about observatory for habitable worlds

An artist's concept of LUVOIR, a 50-foot telescope that was an early NASA concept for a future space telescope.

An artist’s concept of LUVOIR, a 50-foot telescope that was an early NASA concept for a future space telescope. The newly described Habitable Worlds telescope wouldn’t be as big as this one.

NASA officials have made this known information about a planned next-generation space telescope, the Habitable Worlds Observatory, during a recent session of the American Astronomical Society,

During the session, Mark Clampin, the director of the Astrophysics Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, gave a few details about the telescope, which could be operational in the early 2040s.

The need for such observatory outlined in the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine ten years of research in astronomy and astrophysicsa report compiled by hundreds of industry experts that serves as a reference document for the future goals of the fields.

One of the key findings of the most recent decade survey was the need to find habitable worlds beyond our own, using a telescope specially made for such a purpose. The report suggested an $11 billion observatory– one with a 6-meter telescope that would pick up light at optical, ultraviolet, and near-infrared wavelengths. (Hubble Space Ttelescope sees mostly in optical and ultraviolet light, while more recently launched Webb Space Telescope images at mid-infrared and near-infrared wavelengths.)

The authors of the ten-year study suggested the Habitable Worlds Observatory first in new Great Observatories program; actually the linchpin in the next generation of space telescopes of the 21st century. as science reportedfalls the suggestion of the decade report of an exoplanet-focused space telescope somewhere between two older ones NASA to suggestcalled telescope concepts HabEx and LUVOIR.

Exoplanets are found regularly; it is difficult to find worlds with conditions that can host life as we know it. Webb spotted exoplanets and derived aspects of their atmospheric chemistryand other telescopes (even planned ones, like the Roman space telescope) rotate their stare at these strange worlds.

An artist's impression of the exoplanet, LHS 475 b, and the star it orbits.

Unlike other telescopes – both operational and those still on the drawing board– the planned Habitable Worlds Observatory would specifically look for so-called Goldilocks planets, worlds with conditions that could foster life.

The search for extraterrestrial life is a relentless goal of NASA. The Perseverance rover on Mars is collecting rock samples on Mars to learn, among other things, whether there is any evidence of ancient microbial life in a part of the planet that was once a flowing river delta. (An environment, it is important to note, that scientists think it was similar to where the first known life on Earth materialized.)

Past Mars, scientists hope future probes can poke around for signs of life in the subsurface ocean on Jupiter’s moon Europa or the methane sea on Saturn’s moon Titan.

But those are just locations — and hostile ones, compared to Earth — within our solar system. Missions like TESS and the Kepler Space Telescope have detected thousands of exoplanets, but the fraction that resembles Earth is vanishingly small.

Like the Webb telescope, the future observatory will be located at L2, an area of ​​space a million miles from Earth where objects can stay in position with relatively little fuel consumption. (Saving fuel extends mission life.)

As reports ScienceClampin said the Habitable Worlds Observatory would be designed for maintenance and upgrades, which Webb is not. That could make the next observatory a more permanent presence in NASA’s menagerie of space telescopes.

Hubble was famously maintained by people several times in low Earth orbit, due to some mechanical issues and problems created above the telescope 32 years of service in space.

The repairs and upgrades to the Habitable Worlds Observatory (which would take place a million miles from Earth)a bit far for human repairs) would be done robotically, more in the style of a Star Wars droid than a hand from the IT department.

Space News reported that NASA will soon do begin seeking nominations for people to join the Science, Technology, Architecture Review Team (START) for the new observatory. The first phase of the observatory’s development is scheduled for 2029.

In November, Clampin told a House subcommittee that the Webb telescope had had 14 impacts micrometeoroids– very small pieces of fast-traveling space rock that can damage the telescope’s mirrors. Clampin said the NASA team was “making some operational changes to make sure we avoid future impacts,” and the telescope was somewhat repositioned to reduce the risk of future strikes.

One of the telescope’s mirror segments was damaged by a micrometeoroid attack, but an analysis by the team found that the telescope “should meet its optical performance requirements for many years to come”.

Of paramount importance to the astronomical community is that the new observatory’s budget and timeline remain on track. The Webb project was years late and way over budget. Space News reportts that isSome scientists are arguing for an accelerated timeline that could see the launch of the Habitable Worlds Observatory by 2035.

The ball rolls well and truly over the telescopes of the future. The question is how Sisyphean will be the role of the ball.

More: Webb Telescope Spots Ancient Galaxy Built like the Milky Way

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