NASA has committed to a significant upgrade in its ability to explore planets in other solar systems and to understanding the force which drives the expansion of the universe. The tool used in these searches will collect so much data that NASA will allow the public, Citizen Scientists, to assist in its analysis.
The project is called the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope, or WFIRST. This week NASA’s Program Management Council approved plans for a mid-2020’s launch of an observatory which, as its names suggests, will explore in the near infrared range of the spectrum.
WFIRST is not so much revolutionary as evolutionary. The observatory will use the same basic science as Hubble, Spitzer and NASA’s other space based observatories but with the benefit of all the technological advances over the last several years.
The 2.7 meter primary lens WFIRST will use was given to NASA by the National Reconnaissance Office.
The search for exoplanets in particular will get significantly more muscle. WFIRST will provide Hubble-quality over 100 times the area of sky as shown in the pic below. Hubble’s coverage is shown in the upper left hand corner whereas WFIRST’s coverage is the entire area shown.