NASA’s SPHEREx space telescope gets the green light to continue development

Editor’s take: Talk of another telescope out of NASA might be disconcerting to some considering the James Webb Space Telescope remains grounded. The successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, the Webb scope has missed its launch date time and again and is way over its initial budget. At present, it is slated to launch in October 2021.

A future NASA telescope was given the green light to proceed to the next phase of development this week.

The Spectro-Photometer for the History of the Universe, Epoch of Reionization and Ices Explorer, or SPHEREx for short, will be equipped with instruments to detect near-infrared light that isn’t visible to the human eye. Utilizing a technique called spectroscopy, the space telescope will break down near-infrared light into its individual wavelengths, which will help scientists accomplish three key goals.

The telescope, which will map the entire sky four times during its two-year mission, will look for evidence of a process called inflation that scientists believe happened “less than a billionth of a billionth of a second after the big bang.” Evidence of that rapid expansion should still be present today and could help us understand the physics behind the process.

SPHEREx will also study the faint glow given off by galaxies in hopes of better understanding how they form. What’s more, the telescope will be used to look for water ice and frozen organic molecules around newly forming stars in the Milky Way galaxy. Learning more about water’s role in the formation of young planetary systems could give scientists a better idea of how common systems like ours are in the universe.

SPHEREx has just entered Phase C, which means the space agency has approved its preliminary design plans. From here, work can begin on creating a final design and building the necessary hardware and software.

NASA aims to launch the telescope no earlier than June 2024 and no later than April 2025.

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