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Telescope drama can prevent the pursuit of external life

For nearly 20 years, NASA has planned and constructed a telescope unlike anything ever built: James Webb Space Telescope. It…

For nearly 20 years, NASA has planned and constructed a telescope unlike anything ever built: James Webb Space Telescope. It will change how researchers see the most remote galaxies and intensify the pursuit of external life. It will answer outstanding questions about stars and the planet’s birth and death. It is the future of the astronomer – but it causes problems. JWST’s high price and decades of delays can clog the development of future telescopes, affecting astronomy for the next 30 years.

JWST is a successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, a tennis court size, space telescope with a 6.5 meter long mirror that will be sent to a gravity-stable point nearly a million miles from the ground. It will create incredibly detailed images from the infrared light of objects in space, including nebulae, exoplanets, galaxies and stars. Looking further, NASA’s planned successor to JWST, known as WFIRST (Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope), will observe the sky with a resolution similar to Hubbles but with a much wider point of view. It would allow astronomers to answer some of the basic questions about dark energy, a mysterious force that seems to push the universe’s accelerating expansion. It would also provide a platform for testing state-of-the-art components for its own successor. Four teams of researchers already work with different concepts for the flagship mission to follow WFIRST, which should start in the 2030s or 2040s. Three of these concepts would follow up potentially life-dwelling exoplanets spotted by JWST, while the fourth would strive to understand the origins of the galaxies and universe. These assignments would all be expensive, similar to the cost of JWST.

“[Today’s astronomers]” are the first people in history who have a chance to answer the convincing questions of whether there is life over the earth, “MIT astrophysician Sara Seager recently told.

Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) Photo: NASA

However, as JWST’s price tag increased incrementally, from hundreds of millions of dollars to $ 9.6 billion, some researchers working on their successors are ill at ease. Where will the extra money pay for JWST budget transfers, and how have these delays affected the public perception of these major missions? And if the NASA scrapes or removes some parts from WFIRST, future space-based efforts can make it possible to detect signs of life outside the solar system. While Congress is looking at astronomical research more favorably, President Trumps 201

9 has already asked for a budget request that WFIRST be abandoned.

The future of these missions and how JWST will affect them is uncertain, told Scott Gaudi, professor of Ohio State University and member of WFIRST team Gizmodo.

As early as 1989, astronomers had an early concept of JWST as a “Next Generation Space Telescope”, the successor to Hubble. While initially believing that it had a mirror of eight or more feet (26+ feet) in diameter, budget constraints made that researchers would ward off different targets, resulting in a telescope concept of 6.5 meters that would become James Webb Space Telescope. As planned, NASA 2002 chose an airline called TRW to build the spacecraft and the mirror with a budget of $ 825 million and a planned launch in 2010. Northrop Grumman acquired TRW and soon took over the telescope’s construction.

NASA’s JWST Clean Room & # 39; Transporter & # 39; 2016. Photo: NASA / Chris Gunn

Delays have been made to JWST’s entire development history. Lastly, an independent review showed that the increase in project scope, telescope complexity, overoptimism and human error has plagued its construction. These human errors include the time when someone at Northrop Grumman used the wrong solvent to clean the valves and the time when nuts were falling in the telescope during a test, according to the review. But as early as 2005, the launch was running until 2013 and the cost of $ 4.5 billion due to “funding shortages,” “demand changes,” and other issues. Manufacturing began in 2011, but then the launch was launched to 2018 and the budget was estimated at $ 8 billion. Today, JWST’s estimated cost is up to $ 9.66 billion and its projected launch date is sometime in 2021.

Then it’s only that great progress in astronomy has occurred during the telescope’s development. NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine declared in a congressional hearing this July that the study of today’s most unusual astronomical topics, such as dark energy and exoplanets, only began when the JWST project began. “This is not just misunderstandings or cost overruns or delays,” said Congressman Don Beyer (D-Virginia) during the hearing. “The world of science changes in ways that have affected the project.” In essence, the project’s scope and scope have been expanded, as researchers have learned more about the universe and encountered more cosmic mysteries.

By 2010, it was already time to plan a successor for JWST. Every decade, the Scientific Committees explore the state of astrophysics and decide what kind of experiment the whole community would like to see the next, including small and medium-sized missions and flagship missions. For the largest assignments, research groups work with several concepts, and the Decadal Survey Committee uses these concepts to set the field’s priority for NASA.

Even then, astronomers were worried about how JWST’s cost would affect the future of observation. But then, NASA received a 2.4 meter (7.8 foot) mirror from the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). The mirror was originally designed for use in espionage, but would work nicely in a space telescope. Decadal Survey went forward with a telescope called WFIRST-a telescope with Hubble’s resolution but 100 times the viewing area. A telescope like this would help researchers determine the true nature of dark energy, a mysterious force that seems to accelerate the expansion of the universe and which could determine the ultimate fate of the universe. NASA scraped other concepts, such as the exoplanet-hunting Space Interferometry Mission, in response.

WFIRST “was a Frankenstein creation,” Jessie Christiansen, astrophysician at the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute at Caltech, told Gizmodo. “There was something nobody really asked for until the mirror was donated by NRO.” However, according to the death survey, such a telescope would “solve key issues in both exoplanet and dark energy research, which will promote subjects ranging from galaxy evolution to the study of objects within our own galaxy.” WFIRST has expanded in both scope and cost since 2010 decadal investigation.

Primary Mirror Assembly WFIRST Photo: Harris Corporation / TJT Photography

The telescope is the wide-field gauge would be relatively simple compared to some instruments flying on previous NASA missions, Gaudi Gizmodo told. But WFIRST would also be the first to fly a technology in space that is important for two proposals for the next flagship space telescope: a “coronagraph”. A coronagraph is a device that blocks the bright lights of the stars, making the dimmer planets that wobble the star visible. If researchers hope to find life around other stars, they must form the light produced by and reflected by the planet directly. The question is that the planet can be billions of times dimmer than the star it circles. Scientists hope that one day can come to earthlike planets using this technique.

And here is the most important thing: Observing the light directly from planets, rather than just observing the periodic dimming that is produced when the planet passes in front of the star tells scientists if life’s presence has changed the planet’s atmosphere it has on Earth. Climate change aside, life fills the atmosphere of the planet with carbon dioxide, oxygen, methane and other biological building blocks. To determine if life exists on other planets requires that you observe the atmospheres of these planets to see which molecules they contain.

Preparations for the 2020 Decadal Survey are already under way. Four teams of astronomers prepare conceptual studies for WFIRST’s successor, a flagship telescope mission that would start some time in the late 2030s or early 2040s. As in 2010, the survey will determine which astronomy is the most important scientific issues and how best to answer them with the help of ambitious, potentially not yet developed technology. The Decade Committee will proceed with a recommendation based on the goals and the design of one or more concepts. It is obvious that the pursuit of signs of extraterrestrial life will play an enormous role in the discussion. Two of the concepts contain a coronagraph as WFIRSTs, and three lists analyze the exoplanets among their primary goals. Everyone should cost billions of dollars.

Large UV / Optical / IR Surveyor (LUVOIR) is the most ambitious of these four missions – and it would be really huge, with either a 8- or 15 meter (26- or 49-foot) mirror. It would be a follow-up to JWST. Another, the Habitable Exoplanet Imaging Mission (HabEx), is built from the bottom up to observe the exoplanets in mind. Both would rely on a coronagraph and a starshade, an external component that blocks the light from other stars.

HabEx coronagraph Image: NASA

Two other proposed telescopes would not rely on a coronagraph or starshade. Origins Space Telescope (OST) would look for exoplanets around cooler stars in infrared wavelengths, where the difference in brightness between the star and planet is not as great. Its goal is also to observe the formation of the plans and the growing complexity of stars and galaxies. Finally, there is Lynx, which focuses on astrophysical high energy mysteries, such as the dawn of black holes and the birth and death of the stars. It would be an X-ray scoop with sensitive instruments and act as a sequel to the wildly successful Chandra X-ray Telescope.

The National Academy of Sciences has already suggested that it benefits a telescope equipped with a coronary grid or some kind of starlight shading unit, such as LUVOIR or HabEx, when it comes to hunting for extraterrestrial life. From the latest report Exoplanet Science Strategy:

A coronary or starshade-based direct-imaging assignment is the only path currently identified to characterize ground-level plan solutions in the habitable zones in a wide range of nearby so-called stars in reflected light. .. NASA should lead a major strategic direct-finding mission that can measure reflected light spectra of temperate terrestrial planets that circle similar stars.

Another recent report from the national academies describing a strategy for the future of astrobiology calls for “starhades and coronagraphs”.

It is important to note that there are a variety of other terrestrial telescopes under development, such as the Giant Magellan Telescope and the Thirty Meter Telescope. These terrestrial telescopes are better for observing planets around cooler, small M-dwarf stars, Aki Roberge, researcher at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, working at LUVOIR, recently told Gizmodo. Space telescopes equipped with star-light blocking coronary charts can better observe planets around Sun-like stars. Extraterrestrial life can exist in both cases, and both are part of a healthy astrobiology strategy.

Image: HabEx starshade (NASA)

Proposal space telescope proposals are already starting to feel the heat from JWST. On June 1, NASA’s astrophysics director Paul Hertz sent the concept groups and presented a $ 3 billion target for $ 5 billion for the studies. According to a press release, “With the recent delays and budget constraints surrounding the two major flagship missions, the new direction will better ensure that the next flagship mission is performed in time and within budget.” However, he revised the memo two weeks later, and instead reminded that the second phase of his design process began, where they would design a less costly architecture than their first constructions. National academies have also recommended that these concepts reflect on costs and schedules. These conceptual studies are due to NASA in June 2019.

Someone, like LUVOIR physicist John Meara, worries that the difficulties with JWST will cause members of astronomical society to give up major missions like these in general. It is a feeling that some, as former NASA administrator Charles Bolden, has expressed earlier. “I hope they do not,” says O & Meara.

JWST mirrors are tested at the Marshall Space Flight Center’s X-ray and Cryogenic Plant. Photo: NASA / MSFC / Emmett Given

“I’m really concerned about funding status,” said Laura Lopez, associate professor at Ohio State University working on the Lynx team, telling Gizmodo. “It feels like an uncertain situation where we do not know what’s going to happen next year, even less for the next 15 years. “All major missions like these would require long-term funding for more than a decade.

And there are many smaller missions whose prospects can be in due to the cost and extent of these major projects, assignments of a similar extent to Kepler and TESS.

JWST may influence these future missions directly or based on how it affects WFIRST. Last summer, the congress has held hearings grilling NASA and Northrup Grumman about JWST’s cost overruns and delays. Northrup Grumman CEO Wes Bush told Congressman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) that the company int e would get the last cost increase of $ 800 million. It is unclear what happens next.

Image: Lynx

WFIRST faces clear threats. During the past year, President Trump’s proposal for a budget to completely scrape the telescope included. Scientists are convinced that the more space-friendly congress will not let it happen, but Gaudi has heard that threatens the presence of the coronary chart as well. Should WFIRST lose its coronary grade, scientists will miss an important opportunity to test the light-locking technology in space before flying it on the ultimate exoplanet hunting telescope.

Gizmodo heard several times flying a coronagraph without testing it on a previous mission can be a very bad idea with far-reaching consequences for cost and schedule. “We can save about $ 300 million by testing a coronagraph,” David Spergel, Astrophysicist Princeton who works with WFIRST’s development, told Gizmodo, “but I suspect that in the long run it may cost a billion in the development cost of LUVOIR or HabEx when time will upgrade to a coronary chart that can detect earthlike planets. “Gaudi said flying a coronagraph on WFIRST would make LUVOIR or HabEx” much more palatable to almost everyone “.

Researchers have reminded Congress of the importance of coronagraphs. “WFIRST’s coronagraph instrument is a technology demonstration,” Seager said recently at a Senate hearing. “It’s critical to do this to buy down more ambitious missions in the future that are already being studied.”

Web at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston on December 1, 2017. Photo: NASA / Chris Gunn

For what worth the astronomers Gizmodo generally agreed that JWST will be well worth waiting. But flagship telescopes are intended to advance significantly on existing instruments and improvement requires money. Scraping or deterrence WFIRST can further delay the mankind’s dream of discovering life on other planets, if the decadal investigation finally decides to recommend a coronary-based mission. There may also be fears or budgetary implications resulting from the JWST delay.

What is understood by WFIRST is of course in the air. Researchers are waiting to see what’s happening with the reconciliation of upcoming budgets, “and how Congress will respond to the further delays of JWST,” said Gaudi. Given the chaotic political climate of the country, nobody knows what will come and will not receive funding in the future. But long-term investments require money and representatives willing to allocate the money to support them.

“I’m only doing my best to give the congress as much information as possible to make the best decision possible,” Sade Gaudi . “I hope they are ambitious and optimistic for science.”

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