NASA has recently revealed its Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), a mission scheduled for launch in the mid-2020s.
With 300-megapixel Wide Field Instrument, it will be able to map the Milky Way and other galaxies 100 times faster than the famous Hubble space telescope. The new telescope could find as many as 1,400 new planets outside our solar system, enabling humans to find the largest, deepest and clearest picture of the universe as well as the existence of extraterrestrial life. It will scan a small piece of the universe – about two square degrees – at a resolution higher than any similar mission in the past.
The mission will build on the work of Kepler, a deep-space telescope that found more than 2,600 planets outside our solar system. The Kepler mission ended in October 2018. While the Kepler began the search by looking for planets that orbit their stars closer than the Earth is to our Sun the WFIRST will complete it by finding planets with larger orbits.
‘WFIRST’s has a unique combination of both a wide field of view and a high resolution therefore makes it so powerful for microlensing planet searches. Infrared light allows it to see through dust that lies in the plane of the Milky Way in between us and the galactic center, something optical telescopes on the ground cannot do. This gives WFIRST access to parts of the sky that are more densely packed with stars.
To find new planets, it will use gravitational microlensing, a technique that relies on the gravity of stars and planets to bend and magnify the light coming from stars that pass behind them from the telescope’s viewpoint. This micro-lensing effect allows a telescope to find planets orbiting stars thousands of light-years away from the Earth much farther than other planet-detecting techniques. It will spend long stretches of time continuously monitoring 100 million stars at the centre of the galaxy adding that about 100 of those not yet discovered planets could have the same or lower mass as Earth.
It is the first major optical telescope to be placed in space, the ultimate mountaintop. It was launched in 1990. Scientists have used Hubble to observe the most distant stars and galaxies as well as the planets in our solar system. NASA named the world’s first space-based optical telescope after American astronomer Edwin P. Hubble. He confirmed an “expanding” universe, which provided the foundation for the big-bang theory