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NASA readies its JWST successor: Nancy Grace Roman Telescope

The James Webb Space Telescope has allowed us to peer further into the cosmos than ever before in its first 15 months, but NASA is already planning for its successor to take the reins before 2027. Let’s look at the upcoming Nancy Grace Roman Telescope. 

Our knowledge of the great expanse is rapidly growing thanks to the James Webb Space Telescope. 

Deployed in December 2021, NASA’s flagship infrared explorer instantly took our breath away with its deep field images of distant galaxy clusters, colourful nebulas, and black holes.

In the year since, it has discovered and characterised thousands of exoplanets, including the first known rocky planet with similar characteristics to Earth. 

Despite the state-of-the-art, $10bn device merely scratching the surface of its potential, NASA is already determined to create a new benchmark for cosmological observations.

The evolutionary trilogy of telescopes – beginning with the still-active Hubble Telescope and progressing to the JWST – is set to conclude sometime before 2027 with the ‘Nancy Grace Roman Telescope.’ 

Reportedly offering a ‘more panoramic view of the universe’ than its predecessor, the European Space Agency claims the latest model will return an unprecedented volume of data and with greater detail than previously thought possible.

Like the Hubble, Roman has a 2.4 metre primary mirror, but has been upgraded with a gigantic 300-megapixel camera that will allow a view 200 times greater. Its seniors may demonstrate an excellent ability to zoom in on concentrated slithers of space, but Roman can provide a much wider field of view without compromising on visual quality. 

It’s said that a recent observation of our neighbouring galaxy ‘Andromeda’ was created by piecing together 400 individual snaps taken by Hubble. For an idea of scale, Roman would achieve the same feat with just two images. Impressive, eh? 

‘In 30 years of Hubble operating, we have gathered something like 170 terabytes of data,’ explained Marco Sirianni, the Science Operations manager at ESA. ‘For Webb, we expect in five years to have 1,000 terabytes. For the five years nominal life for Roman, we expect to have 20,000 terabytes,’ he revealed. 

Armed with the tools to create a comprehensive 3D overview of the known universe, NASA is striving to answer some of astrophysics’ biggest questions. There is a real optimism, for instance, that we may finally ratify whether Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity holds up. 

If you’re unfamiliar (and fair enough), the general belief is that visible matter within the universe should slow down the universe’s expansion. Any such expansion under this rule is attributed to the mysterious realm of dark energy, which we wrote about just last week. 

Roman will hopefully provide data to accurately calculate the rate of growth in different areas through measuring the position and distance of millions of galaxies. Perhaps we can also find cosmic traces of any ‘Dark Big Bang’ posited in new research, should they exist. 

Get ready for potentially ‘a new age of astronomy,’ Sirianni declares.