Tuesday, June 2, 2020
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NASA’s next great space telescope finally has a name

We don’t like to admit it, but NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope won’t be around forever. Sure, the joint NASA/ESA partnership that keeps Hubble’s observations going says it could last another decade or maybe longer, but eventually, a successor will be shot skyward to offer new perspectives on the cosmos.

The Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope is that successor and NASA just gave it a very fitting name. The spacecraft, which is still in development, has been named the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, or just Roman Space Telescope for brevity’s sake.

Nancy Grace Roman began her work at NASA in 1959. Her death in late 2018 brought with it many retrospectives on her work with the space agency and her incredible efforts to ensure the Hubble Space Telescope project bore fruit. She’s often called the “Mother of Hubble” due to the fact that the telescope almost certainly wouldn’t have existed without her efforts.

NASA's Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) is now named the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope.
NASA’s Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) is now named the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope.NASA

“Nancy Grace Roman was a leader and advocate whose dedication contributed to NASA seriously pursuing the field of astrophysics and taking it to new heights,” NASA’s Thomas Zurbuchen said in a statement. “Her name deserves a place in the heavens she studied and opened for so many.”

It’s incredibly fitting that NASA would choose to honor her by naming its next high-tech telescope after her. The spacecraft will be worked on through September 2020, at which point it will be put on hold while the space agency dumps more money on the James Webb Space Telescope project which, well, don’t get me started on that.

Eventually, funding will shift to the Roman Space Telescope and as NASA describes it, it will have incredibly impressive capabilities:

The Roman Space Telescope is designed to have two instruments, the Wide Field Instrument and a technology demonstration Coronagraph Instrument. The Wide Field Instrument will have a field of view that is 100 times greater than the Hubble infrared instrument, allowing it to capture more of the sky with less observing time. The Coronagraph Instrument will perform high contrast imaging and spectroscopy of individual nearby exoplanets.

American astronomer Dr. Nancy Grace Roman, who was one of the first female executives at NASA.
American astronomer Dr. Nancy Grace Roman, who was one of the first female executives at NASA.Getty Images

A telescope that can see more of the sky than Hubble while also being tuned for exoplanet hunting? Sounds pretty awesome to me. As far as when the Roman Space Telescope will launch, NASA may have learned a lesson from the James Webb fiasco because it’s not even venturing a guess at this point. That’s probably wise.

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