SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) -
Earlier today NASA announced that it would be changing the name of the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) to the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope. The name change was to honor the legacy of Dr. Nancy Grace Roman, and known today as the ‘Mother of Hubble’. She created the NASA’s space astronomy program, became the first female executive at NASA, and served as NASA’s first Chief of Astronomy throughout the 1960s and 1970s.
In a NASA documentary during an interview, Dr. Roman said “I certainty didn’t receive any encouragement. I was told from the beginning that woman could never be scientists.”
“Nancy Grace Roman is a role model. We’re naming this mission after Nancy Grace Roman because of her great accomplishments. I think it’s really helped younger woman to see that it’s possible for a woman to succeed, it’s possible for a woman to be the best,” said Dr. Julie McEnery, Deputy Project Scientist for the Roman Space Telescope.
One of the Roman Space Telescope’s objectives will be looking for clues about dark energy—the mysterious force that is accelerating the expansion of the universe. Another objective of the mission will be finding and studying exoplanets (extrasolar planets).
The Wide Field Instrument will cover over 100 times as much as a Hubble Wide Field Camera 3/IR image, and will be 300 megapixels in size. Hubble images reveal thousands of galaxies; whereas a single Roman Space Telescope image will uncover millions of galaxies.
Dr. McEnery says, “Instead of having to know where we are going to look, we’re going to survey large regions and count all of the galaxies, map their positions, measure their shapes and find things that we didn’t know to look for.”
The Roman Space Telescope’s microlensing survey will monitor 100 million stars for hundreds of days and is expected to find about 2,500 planets well targeted at rocky planets in and beyond the region where liquid water may exist.
“We can use the main instrument, the Wide Field Instrument to monitor millions of stars in our galaxy to look for faint changes in brightness as an extrasolar planet orbits around the star,” Dr. McEnery states.
The mission has now transitioned into a critical design phase.
“We’re starting to actually build the hardware, we’re seeing the detectors come together, we’re seeing the telescope mirrors near completion. It feels like being renamed is sort of a mark, that this is a real milestone,” says Dr. McEnery.
The Roman Space Telescope will be able to detect planets as small as Neptune, and as far from their stars as Saturn is from the sun. This is possible thanks to newly developed coronagraphs, which block the bright light from the star to make the planet more visible.
The Roman Space Telescope is scheduled to be launched in the mid-2020′s.