The James Webb Space Telescope has continued to unravel the beauty and mystery of the universe since sending its first images in July last year – but the mission to deploy the next big space telescope is well underway.
The Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope will be the next major space telescope launched following NASA’s deployment of its newest telescope, the successor to the still-active Hubble Telescope.
One of the European Space Agency (ESA) scientists working on the project told Euronews.next that the Roman launch would open “a new era for astronomy”. It will collect more data than any other NASA mission launched before, and seek to answer some of the biggest questions in astrophysics.
Scheduled to launch in 2027 at the latest, Marco Siriani, ESA’s director of science operations development who worked on the project with NASA, explained that it would be able to capture “a more beautiful view of the universe and allow for more statistical studies.”
During the NASA-led mission, the European Space Agency contributed some technology and expertise to the mission, in exchange for access to the unprecedented amount of data it would provide.
Here’s what to expect from NASA’s next big space telescope.
How is Roman different from Hubble and James Webb?
While Hubble and Webb are very good at zooming in to get a detailed view of a small part of the sky, Roman will have a much wider field of view.
It will be able to create infrared images 200 times larger than Hubble while providing the same rich level of detail as its mirror of the same size, 2.4 meters in diameter.
Siriani said that while it would be able to produce the “amazing” images we are used to getting from Hubble and Webb, it would essentially be a “telescope dedicated to surveying.”
“To find the number of stars in nearby galaxies, which are too many for Hubble’s field of view, we have to stitch and make a mosaic of very different shots. Using the Roman method, we can photograph the entire galaxy in one sitting.”
For example, a recent “mosaic” of our neighboring Andromeda galaxy was laid out with 400 individual images taken by Hubble. Roman will be able to paint the same big picture with the same level of detail using just two images. This much bigger picture means unprecedented amounts of data will be collected.
“To give you an idea, in 30 years of running Hubble, we’ve collected about 170 terabytes of data,” said Siriani. “For Webb, we hope in five years to have 1,000 terabytes. Over 5 years of Roman life, we hope to have 20,000 terabytes.”
Ultimately, it will collect data from billions of galaxies to create a “3D model of the universe.”
Answer the cosmic puzzle
With this panoramic view of the universe, NASA and its partners hope to answer some of the biggest questions facing astrophysics.
One of his goals was to test Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity, which tests well at the scale of our solar system for example, but to a lesser extent on larger cosmic scales.
Visible matter in the universe should, in theory, slow the universe’s expansion, so scientists attribute the universe’s expansion speed to a mysterious element — dark energy — which they believe makes up about 68 percent of the universe. .
Roman will provide us with data that can accurately measure the locations and distances of millions of galaxies and help us understand the expansion rate of the universe in different regions.
Ultimately, the results will tell us whether Einstein’s theory of gravity needs to be modified.
Number of outer planets
Another of Roman’s main goals is to find thousands of new exoplanets within our galaxy, using a technique called gravitational microlensing.
“If two stars line up with each other, the star in the foreground will distort and magnify the light of the star behind it. And if the star in the foreground has a planet, we will see the effect of that planet on the sunlight. the stars behind it,” said Siriani.
He added that given that Roman will be counting billions of stars, it will provide “a very good statistic for how many stars have exoplanets”.
Not only will it detect new exoplanets, but Roman will also carry a second main instrument called the coronagraph which aims to image exoplanets close to their host stars. “This is a very difficult technique because the starlight has to be suppressed – it is much brighter than the object you want to study, the closest planet,” said Siriani.
The Roman Crown will attempt to capture large Jupiter-like planets head-on, and make direct corrections to improve image quality.
It will become an illustration tool – and if it proves successful, it will form the basis for technology to be used in future space observatories that will try to image Earth-like planets directly in the habitable zone of their host star.
ESA’s contribution to Roman
The European Space Agency contributed three key technologies to the Romanian mission, in exchange for access to data and a seat at the table during the mission.
The space agency will provide a “starttracker,” a small telescope on the spacecraft that constantly determines its position in the sky by tracking stars. It will then provide batteries to help power the spacecraft before deploying the solar panels.
Finally, it will also provide an on-board coronagraph detector.
Additionally, a special ESA mission to measure the expansion of the universe and reveal more about dark energy will launch this summer.
The Euclid Space Telescope will collect information that will then complement the data collected by Roman.
Like ESA’s contribution to Roman, NASA also made a small contribution to Euclid’s mission.