The earliest scientists Universe placed Earth at the centre of the Universe. And over the preceding centuries, increasingly precise astronomical observations led to the realisation our Sun is one of hundreds of billions of stars in the Milky Way, which is only one of at least hundreds of billions of galaxies in the Universe. Now NASA scientists have unveiled the groundbreaking SPHEREx mission to understand the very origins of the Universe itself.
US space agency NASA has announced their latest space mission and it is their most ambitious yet.
NASA’s Spectro-Photometer for the History of the Universe, Epoch of Reionization and Ices Explorer (SPHEREx) mission has two key aims.
SPHEREx has a twofold aim: to understand the evolution of the universe and how common the ingredients for life are in our galaxy.
“This amazing mission will be a treasure trove of unique data for astronomers,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.
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“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?”
The two-year £190million ($242million) mission is scheduled to launch in 2023.
SPHEREx will survey the sky in optical as well as near-infrared light.
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For although infrared light is invisible to the human eye, it serves as a considerably more powerful tool for answering cosmic questions.
NASA will use the SPHEREx mission to gather data from more than 300 million galaxies, in addition to more than 100 million stars in the Milky Way.
“I’m really excited about this new mission,” said Jim Bridenstine, a NASA administrator.
“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.”
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SPHEREx will survey hundreds of millions of galaxies near and far, some so distant their light has taken 10 billion years to reach Earth.
In the Milky Way, the mission will search for water and organic molecules – essentials for life, as we know it – in stellar nurseries, regions where stars are born from gas and dust, as well as disks around stars where new planets could be forming.
SPHEREx will additionally survey the entire sky twice a year using cutting-edge technology adapted from Earth satellites and Mars missions.
The NASA SPHEREx mission will create a map of the entire sky in 96 different colour bands, far exceeding the colour resolution of previous all-sky maps.
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And SPHEREx also will identify targets for more detailed study by future missions, such as NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope and Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope.
The Korea Astronomy & Space Science Institute in Daejeon, Republic of Korea, will contribute test equipment and science analysis.
NASA’s Explorer program, managed by the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is the agency’s oldest continuous program, designed to provide frequent, low-cost access to space using principal investigator-led space science investigations relevant to the Astrophysics and Heliophysics programs in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.
The program has launched more than 90 missions, beginning in 1958 with Explorer 1, which discovered the Earth’s radiation belts.
Another Explorer mission, theCosmic Background Explorer, which launched in 1989, led to a Nobel Prize.
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