Imagine a fleet of 100 Hubble Space Telescopes, deployed in a strategic space-invader-shaped array a million miles from Earth, scanning the universe at warp speed.
With NASA’s Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope, scheduled for launch in the mid-2020s, this vision will (effectively) become reality.
WFIRST will capture the equivalent of 100 high-resolution Hubble images in a single shot, imaging large areas of the sky 1,000 times faster than Hubble. In several months, WFIRST could survey as much of the sky in near-infrared light — in just as much detail — as Hubble has over its entire three decades.
Elisa Quintana, WFIRST Deputy Project Scientist for Communications at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is confident that WFIRST will have the power to transform astrophysics. “To answer fundamental questions like: How common are planets like those in our solar system? How do galaxies form, evolve, and interact? Exactly how — and why — has the universe’s expansion rate changed over time? We need a tool that can give us both a broad and detailed view of the sky. WFIRST will be that tool.”
Although WFIRST has not yet opened its wide, keen eyes on the universe, astronomers are already running simulations to demonstrate what it will be able to see and plan their observations.