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NASA reveals details about the observatory for habitable worlds

NASA reveals details about the observatory for habitable worlds
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An artist concept of LUVOIR, a 15 meter telescope that was an early NASA concept for a future space telescope.

An artist concept of LUVOIR, a 15 meter telescope that was an early NASA concept for a future space telescope. The newly described Habitable Worlds Telescope would not be quite as large as this one.

NASA officials revealed Information about a planned next-generation space telescope, the Habitable Worlds Observatory, during a last meeting of the American Astronomical Society,

In the session, Mark Clampin, the director of the Astrophysics Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, offered some details about it the telescope that could become operational in the early 2040s.

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

One of most important findings of the most recent decadal survey was to find the need habitable worlds beyond our own, with a telescope specially tailored for the purpose. The report proposed 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 see mainly in optical and ultraviolet light, while those only recently introduced Webb Space Telescope Images at mid- and near-infrared wavelengths.)

The authors of the decade-long survey suggested Habitable Worlds Observatory as first in a new Great Observatories program; basically the linchpin of the next generation of 21st century space telescopes. As science reportedfalls the proposal of the decadal report of an exoplanet-focused space telescope somewhere between two older ones OUR suggestionscalled telescope concepts HabEx and LOUVIR.

Exoplanets are found regularly; It is difficult to find worlds with conditions that can support life as we know it. Webb discovered exoplanets and derived aspects of their atmospheric chemistryand other telescopes (even proposed ones, like the Roman Space Telescope) rotate theirs They perform these strange worlds.

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

Unlike other telescopes – both operational and such still on the drawing board– The planned observatory for habitable worlds would search specifically for so-called Goldilocks planets, worlds with conditions that could support life.

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

Furthermore Mars, scientists hope so future probes may search for signs of life in the subterranean ocean on Jupiter’s moon Europa the sea of ​​methane on Saturn’s moon Titan.

But these are just locations – and hostile compared to Earth – within our solar system. missions like TESS and the Kepler space telescope have discovered thousands of exoplanets, but the fraction that are Earth-like is vanishingly small.

Like the Webb telescope, the future observatory will be located on L2, a region of space one million miles from Earth that allows objects to stay in place with relatively little fuel consumption. (By saving fuel, missions last longer.)

When reported by ScienceClampin said that the habitable worlds observatory was 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 served by people in low earth orbit several times, due to a number of mechanical snafus and problems created above the telescope 32 years in space.

Habitable Worlds Observatory repairs and upgrades (which would take place a million miles from Earth)a bit far away 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 reports that NASA soon Start searching for nominations for people to join the Science, Technology, Architecture Review Team (START) for the new observatory. The first phase of the development of the observatory is planned for 2029.

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

One of the telescope’s mirror segments was damaged by and micrometeorite impact, leg Analysis by the team concluded that the telescope “should meet its optical performance requirements for years to come.”

Of utmost importance to the astronomical community is that the new observatory’s budget and schedule stay on track. the Webb project was Years late and well over budget. Space News reporterts thatSome scientists are calling for an accelerated timeline that could see the Habitable Worlds Observatory launch by 2035.

With the telescopes of the future, the ball is rolling. The question is how Sisyphean the ball will roll.

More: The Webb telescope discovers an ancient galaxy built like the Milky Way

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