NASA has announced a new mission with a vast scope: understanding the foundational elements of the universe and determining how common the basic elements for life are within the Milky Way galaxy. Deemed the Spectro-Photometer for the History of the Universe, Epoch of Reionization and Ices Explorer (SPHEREx), the two-year mission will launch in 2023 with a budget of $242 million.
Introducing SPHEREx: It’s a new 2-yr space mission that will survey 100s of millions of galaxies near and far to help astronomers understand both how our universe evolved and how common the ingredients for life are in our galaxy’s planetary systems. More: https://t.co/qSlb5QqVWX pic.twitter.com/lP2kENPLbT
— NASA (@NASA) February 13, 2019
“I’m really excited about this new mission,” says NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine in a press statement. “Not only does it expand the United States’ powerful fleet of space-based missions dedicated to uncovering the mysteries of the universe, it is a critical part of a balanced science program that includes missions of various sizes.”
Every six months in operation, SPHEREx will create a new map of the sky. Using tech from Earth-focused satellites and Mars-oriented spacecraft, the map of the sky will show 96 different color bands. Those color bands will allow SPHEREx maps to surpass any previous all-sky maps in terms of color resolution.
SPHEREx will make these maps by gazing out into the universe with optical and near-infrared light. Near-infrared light is outside of the visible spectrum but has been a crucial element of astronomy ever since the 1850s. NASA expects that the mission will collect data on as many as 300 million galaxies, and if that wasn’t enough, 100 million stars in the Milky Way as well.
These maps will provide valuable data for NASA’s high profile future projects, like the James Webb Space Telescope. Still under construction (and under criticism from Congress for multiple delays), NASA wants the Webb to be the Hubble’s successor, a premier telescope in terms of both worldwide acclaim and scientific research. SPHEREx could instruct the James Webb on where to look.
A different James, James Bock of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), will be the mission’s principal investigator. On Caltech’s website, Bock describes his research as developing “unique experiments to study the early universe.”
The construction of SPHEREx will be an international project. Ball Aerospace in Colorado will be building the SPHEREx spacecraft, while the Korea Astronomy & Space Science Institute in Daejeon, Republic of Korea will be providing test equipment. NASA’s famed Jet Propulsion Laboratory will be managing the mission, which will fall under the auspices of the Agency’s Explorers program.
“This amazing mission will be a treasure trove of unique data for astronomers,” says Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “It will deliver an unprecedented galactic map containing ‘fingerprints’ from the first moments in the universe’s history. And we’ll have new clues to one of the greatest mysteries in science: What made the universe expand so quickly less than a nanosecond after the big bang?”
Originally posted on Popular Mechanics