At one time, astronomers believed that the planets formed in their current orbits, which remained stable over time. But more recent observations, theory, and calculations have shown that planetary systems are subject to shake-ups and change. Periodically, planets are kicked out of their star systems to become “rogue planets,” bodies that are no longer gravitationally bound to any star and are adrift in the interstellar medium (ISM). Some of these planets may be gas giants with tightly bound icy moons orbiting them, which they could bring with them into the ISM.
Like Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, these satellites could have warm water interiors that might support life. Other research has indicated that rocky planets with plenty of water on their surfaces could also support life through a combination of geological activity and the decay of radionuclides. According to a recent paper by an international team of astronomers, there could be hundreds of rogue planets in our cosmic neighborhood. Based on their first-ever feasibility analysis, they also indicate that deep space missions could explore these unbound objects more easily than planets still bound to their stars.
Since the 1990s, thanks to observations by the venerable Hubble Space Telescope (HST), astronomers have contemplated the mystery of cosmic expansion. While scientists have known about this since the late-1920s and early-30s, images acquired by Hubble‘s Ultra Deep Fields campaign revealed that the expansion has been accelerating for the past six billion years! This led scientists to reconsider Einstein’s theory that there is an unknown force in the Universe that “holds back gravity,” which he named the Cosmological Constant. To astronomers and cosmologists today, this force is known as “Dark Energy.”
However, not everyone is sold on the idea of Dark Energy, and some believe that cosmic expansion could mean there is a flaw in our understanding of gravity. In the near future, scientists will benefit from next-generation space telescopes to provide fresh insight into this mysterious force. These include the ESA’s Euclid mission, scheduled for launch this July, and NASA’s Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope (RST), the direct successor to Hubble that will launch in May 2027. Once operational, these space telescopes will investigate these competing theories to see which holds up.
Less than a year and a half into its primary mission, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has already revolutionized astronomy as we know it. Using its advanced optics, infrared imaging, and spectrometers, the JWST has provided us with the most detailed and breathtaking images of the cosmos to date. But in the coming years, this telescope and its peers will be joined by another next-generation instrument: the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope (RST). Appropriately named after “the Mother of Hubble,” Roman will pick up where Hubble left off by peering back to the beginning of time.
Like Hubble, the RST will have a 2.4-meter (7.9 ft) primary mirror and advanced instruments to capture images in different wavelengths. However, the RST will also have a gigantic 300-megapixel camera – the Wide Field Instrument (WFI) – that will enable a field of view two-hundred times greater than Hubble’s. In a recent study, an international team of NASA-led researchers described a simulation they created that previewed what the RST could see. The resulting data set will enable new experiments and opportunities for the RST once it takes to space in 2027.
In 2026, the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope (RST) – aka. the “Mother of Hubble” – will take to space and begin addressing some of the deepest mysteries of the Universe. This will include capturing the deepest field images of the cosmos, refining measurements of the Hubble Constant (aka. Hubble’s Law), and determining the role of Dark Matter and Dark Energy in the evolution of the cosmos. Alongside its next-generation partner, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), the RST will acquire infrared images with over 200 times the surveying power of its predecessor with the same rich level of detail.
On Tuesday, July 19th, NASA announced that it had awarded SpaceX with a Launch Services (NLS) II contract to provide the rocket that will deploy the RST mission to space. As specified in the NLS II, the launch will take place in October 2026 (May 2027, at the latest) and consist of a Falcon Heavy rocket transporting the RST from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center to orbit. This indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract is valued at approximately $255 million and covers the launch and other mission-related costs.
NASA’s Nancy Gracy Roman Space Telescope won’t launch until 2027, and it won’t start operating until some time after that. But that isn’t stopping excited scientists from dreaming about their new toy and all it will do. Who can blame them?
A new study examines the Roman Space Telescope’s power in detail to see if it can help us answer one of our most significant questions about the Universe. The question?
Will the Universe keep expanding and tear itself apart in a Big Rip?
NASA’s next great space telescope should launch no later than 2027. The Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope is a powerful wide-field infrared telescope that will create panoramic fields of view 100 times greater than Hubble’s. The Roman Telescope has a variety of scientific objectives, and one of its jobs is to complete a census of exoplanets to answer questions around habitability.
A new study shows how the Roman Space Telescope can measure the dust in distant solar systems to help find habitable planets.
As part of its journey towards realization, this next-generation space telescope recently passed a crucial milestone. This would be the all-important Mission Critical Design Review (CDR), signaling that all design and developmental engineering work is complete. With this milestone reached, the next-generation space telescope is now ready to move from the conceptual stage into the fabrication and assembly phase.