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New Space Telescope With 40 Times the Power of Hubble to Unlock Astronomy’s Future

Eric Loseke, Science and Technology Editor

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According to Forbes, The Hubble Space Telescope gave us a great start to exploring the universe, as we have built better instruments to view stars, galaxies, and other parts of space in many new ways. Hubble helped by showing what many parts of the universe, and now to go another great leap means that people need to dream big to answer the questions about astronomy. One space telescope can answer these questions, and it is LUVOIR, a proposed 15.1-meter space telescope with 40 times the power of Hubble.

LUVOIR, which is a concept for a Large UltraViolet, Optical, and InfraRed observatory, would be a scaled-up version of Hubble, which is capable of exploring everything Hubble could not do. Hubble opened the door to the universe by revolutionizing cosmology and our understanding of galaxies and their building blocks, a right eye on the Solar System, and our first steps in studying exoplanetary atmospheres. LUVOIR will transform these achievements and improve them better than any other observatory ever proposed.

LUVOIR could advance many parts of space, like the Solar System to exoplanets, galaxies, intergalactic gas and dark matter. It is an astronomer’s “dream observatory” as all the advanced technology aboard the telescope will push scientific knowledge beyond what we think of our solar system. There are six things that the new space telescope could help us learn further:

  1. The Solar System: LUVOIR could take an image of geysers on Europa and Enceladus, eruptions on Io, or mapping magnetic fields of gas giants, all while on its path. The telescope could look and take an image of a planet in the Kuiper belt, and not be getting a piece of light to see, but a picture of the planet and some of its features. The space telescope should be able to find many varieties of features on faraway stars and planets.
  2. Exoplanets: Instead of making inferences about the existence of faraway planets by their orbits around their parent stars, LUVOIR could take images of many of them directly. The space telescope has a high quality along with a unique size and location in space, which should allow it to detect and photograph many star systems and possibly planets that could harbor life. It could reveal evidence that life exists outside of our home solar system.
  3. Galaxies: The Hubble Space Telescope found many galaxies from the universe, although it could only see the brightest ones that are aided by gravitational lenses in the background. In contrast, LUVOIR will be able to see much more, including faint ones, dwarf ones, galaxies currently forming, and ones that do not have gravitational lenses or serendipitous alignments at all. Researchers will now be able to learn about how different populations of galaxies in the universe are, and they can be measured in resolutions of 300 to 400 light years per pixel, no matter the distance.
  4. Intergalactic gas: Today, we can take a “pencil beam” of a galaxy, measuring the gas around a galaxy that acts as its fuel tank and recycling center. We can measure how well the gas absorbs other gases and compare it with our best 3D simulations that our modern technology has. With LUVOIR, however, we can find at least dozens or maybe hundreds of “pencil beams” per galaxy, allowing us to map out the circumgalactic medium for many any galaxy. LUVOIR can image emission properties of gases in the atmospheres of distant galaxies, which would let us compare observations with our current simulations easily.
  5. Stars: The Hubble Space Telescope opened many possibilities about observing and measuring properties of stars in the Andromeda galaxy, which is more than two million light-years away. LUVOIR, however, will be able to make measurements to the same degree as Hubble’s, except LUVOIR can measure up to 300 million light-years away. We will be able to measure stars of almost every type of galaxy in our universe, which would be impossible without such a high-tech telescope.
  6. Dark matter: Dark matter is an invisible mass that is responsible for much of the gravitation in the universe, but we can only track it from its effects on visible matter. Before now, scientists had to look at areas of distant galaxies with the Milky Way, a problematic mapping process. LUVOIR will change this by allowing scientists to measure properties of galaxies further away from us than ever before, testing how dark matter has changed over the years. The researchers will be able to be able to analyze the smallest parts of galaxies that are beyond the range of the world’s most powerful telescopes to test dark matter explicitly.

There is no substitute for going into space because no matter how high-tech the instruments become, it still cannot overcome the atmosphere’s effects, especially right when measuring ultraviolet and infrared wavelengths, as they can only be imaged accurately from space. Size also cannot be substituted, as it determines the highest resolution possible and the maximum amount of light-gathering power. LUVOIR will have six times the resolution of Hubble and can take images that Hubble could about 40 times faster. What LUVOIR could observe continuously for nine days, it would take a full year for Hubble to follow the same object, and Hubble would have 16% as good resolution.

Although JUNO’s images of Jupiter are outstanding, LUVOIR will be able to get images of the same quality near Earth instead of having to go to a planet like Jupiter. When measuring ultraviolet light, LUVOIR will use a microshutter array that would allow it to take images of many objects at the same time instead of just a single object, as the telescopes do now. Hubble worked with observatories on Earth, and LUVOIR will too. The telescope will work with the current generation of 30-meter-class observatories currently under construction, so they can find and follow up on the faintest and furthest away objects that we will know. LUVOIR could be a mission as early as in the 2030’s.

We are going to be looking for all of the potential discoveries in the future with every technological leap. Every time we advance our technology in astronomy and astrophysics, the most significant achievements are the achievements that were unexpected. For example, what we do not know about the universe, including what it looks like in faraway areas, and how the most distant stars, galaxies, and gas clouds will all be exposed for the first time. It could be revealed that we were wrong about some ideas about the universe, but we need the high-quality data to support it.

For LUVOIR to function correctly, NASA’s Space Launch System would have to be used to launch the space telescope, as the largest, heaviest-design launch vehicle would have to be used to launch LUVOIR. For the telescope to image exoplanets, a coronagraph that can pick out one part in 10,000,000,000 would be needed, much better over our current systems. The telescope would have to be able to be serviced at the L2 Lagrange point, which is 1.5 million kilometers away from Earth, which is four times as far as the farthest a human has ever flown from Earth.

John O’Meara, lead of Cosmic Origins Science for LUVOIR, states,

“I believe very strongly that LUVOIR is a critical part of our next great era in science when we definitively advance not just the search for life, but the telling of its story over cosmological time. LUVOIR can give us the tools to answer many of our most fundamental questions as human beings trying to understand their place in the universe. If that isn’t worth it, what is?”

In conclusion, LUVOIR, a proposed 15.1-meter space telescope would be able to revolutionize the achievements that the Hubble Space Telescope gave us.  LUVOIR, a concept for a Large UltraViolet, Optical, and InfraRed observatory, has 40 times the power of Hubble and could advance many parts of space like our Solar System to exoplanets, galaxies, intergalactic gas, and dark matter. Six things that LUVOIR could help us learn or advance our knowledge on are the solar system, exoplanets, galaxies, intergalactic gas, stars, and dark matter. With six times the resolution of Hubble, LUVOIR will be able to take pictures about 40 times faster than Hubble and Hubble would only have 16% as good a resolution as LUVOIR. For the telescope to function correctly, we would need the best launch vehicle, a coronagraph that can pick out one part in 10,000,000,000, and would have to be serviced 1.5 million kilometers from Earth. The space telescope may become a mission as early as the 2030s.

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New Space Telescope With 40 Times the Power of Hubble to Unlock Astronomy’s Future