NASA is on course to find as many as 1,400 new exoplanets with a groundbreaking space telescope preparing for launch next year.
The $3.2 billion “WFIRST” is a spiritual successor to the Hubble telescope – but it’ll be able to produce images 100x bigger.
NASA first confirmed plans to create the WFIRST (or Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope) telescope back in 2016, with a launch date set for Jan. 1, 2020.
Its primary mission is to search for alien worlds and “paves the way for a more accurate, more focused search for extraterrestrial life.”
The idea is that if we have a better understanding of the planets outside of our solar system, it’ll be easier for us to uncover alien life.
And a new report by Ohio State University suggests that WFIRST could find “as many as 1,400 new planets.” Their research was published in the Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series.
This is thanks to the powerful reach of the WFIRST telescope, which can probe deeper (and see more widely) than was possible with the Hubble and Kepler telescopes.
“We want to know what kind of planetary systems there are,” Matthew Penny, the lead author on the paper, said in a statement.
“To do that, you need to not just look where the obvious, easy things are. You need to look at everything.”Researchers expect WFIRST’s planet discoveries to be further from their stars than most planets found so far.New technology allows the telescope to spot planets with larger orbits.It will use a technique called gravitational microlensing, which relies on the gravity of stars and planets to “bend and magnify the light” coming from stars that pass behind them.