A new space Observatory WFIRST (Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope, “wide field infrared telescope”) space Agency NASA will be able to detect up to 1,400 new exoplanets, some of which mass can be comparable with the Earth, according to a paper published in the Astrophysical journal Supplement Series. Building on the legacy of previous missions, the new telescope will be able to answer some fundamental questions about the nature of our Universe and may make a significant contribution to the search for extraterrestrial life, scientists say.
The original concept of the telescope was proposed in 2011. Since then, the design characteristics of the device many times changed, until eventually space Agency NASA gave the green light for the development of a new space Observatory in February 2016. In may 2018, the project has passed an important technical expertise and has entered the design phase. The project budget, at least on paper, is $ 3.2 billion. The launch is planned for somewhere in the middle of the 2020-ies. But, given the history of previous development of the ambitious projects of NASA, it is possible that the project budget will go far beyond the established framework. But if the unit will be able to go into space as planned, it will be a miracle – we all remember the long-suffering space telescope “James Webb”, which are not completed, but promised to do it in 2021.
In any case, WFIRST is planned to send into space after the “James Webb”. The authors of the Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series say that it will be two main tasks. First, the new space Observatory will carry out a detailed observation of the cosmos, trying to figure out the nature of dark energy by the astronomers, constant energy density, uniformly filling the space of the Universe and responsible for its expansion. Second, the unit will search for new exoplanets that may be located significantly further from their home stars, in comparison with those worlds that have been discovered to date. In this planet WFIRST will continue to work with the other space Observatory – telescope “Kepler”, which after 9 years of research of the Universe retired in October 2018, when he completely ran out of fuel.
“Kepler” was engaged in the search for exoplanets located from their home stars within a radius not exceeding the distance between the Earth and the Sun. WFIRST will continue his work, but will look for planets that are further removed from their bodies,” commented lead author of the study Matthew penny, a scientist at the Department of astronomy at the Ohio state University (USA).
New worlds WFIRST would search using the method of gravitational microlensing, watching the changing under the influence of a very powerful sources of gravity (galaxies, clusters of galaxies, clusters of dark matter) the direction of propagation of electromagnetic radiation (light), just as the usual lens changes the direction of the light beam. To do this, he will use 288 megapixel multi-spectral camera, infrared the clarity of the images which will be close to the pictures of telescope “Hubble”.
By analyzing the wavelengths of light from a background source (extrasolar planets) that are located behind the gravitational lens, astronomers can determine the mass of an object and its distance from its home star. Gravitational lenses are a fairly rare occurrence, so for a very extended periods of time WFIRST will follow immediately after the 100 million stars in the heart of the milky Way. For one surveillance camera to cover about 2 square degrees of the sky, allowing you to scan our galaxy more than 100 times faster “Hubble”.
“It may seem that this is a very small part of the sky, but actually it goes far beyond the capabilities of other space-based telescopes. This efficiency WFIRST will rely on two basic ability of the telescope: the possibility of conducting observations in a wide range, and the ability to conduct surveillance in high resolution. This will allow him to quickly finding new exoplanets using the microlensing effect. The same “Hubble” and even the new “James Webb” not so effective”, says penny.
According to the authors of a new study, their work offers the most detailed evaluation of those opportunities and discoveries that we should expect from the new telescope WFIRST. To do this, scientists used computer models that were taken into account many factors and opportunities, including those that were proposed in earlier concepts of the unit.
Since the first ekzoplanety astronomers confirmed the existence of at least 3917 worlds outside the Solar system. In the new study States that WFIRST will be able to increase this number over 1400 of the worlds. Moreover, researchers predict that about 100 of the new discovered worlds will have certain characteristics that will make them into a list of so-called earth-like exoplanets.
According to scientists, the discovery and exploration of new worlds using the method of microlensing will allow us to understand how frequently represented in the Universe of certain types of exoplanets. Using this information, astronomers will be able to better understand just how rare are planetary systems similar to ours. And this in turn will allow us to more accurately assess the prospects for the discovery of extraterrestrial life.