While NASA has been touting the impending launch of the James Webb Space Telescope in 2018, the space agency is already discussing the space observatory due to take off after that, WFIRST. WFIRST was adapted from a spare telescope from the National Reconnaissance Organization. WFRST is due to be launched in the mid-2020s, having evolved from a study to a full-fledged project. The telescope is estimated to cost $2 billion from now until the time it is launched and deployed.

WFIRST will have two instruments. The first is a camera called the Wide-Field Instrument that will allow observations in the near-infrared at 100 times the view of the Hubble Space Telescope.

The other is coronagraph that will suppress the light of distant stars.

The coronagraph is crucial for the imaging of exoplanets. The Kepler Space Telescope has discovered a myriad of exoplanets by measuring how light dims from distant stars when the planets pass between them and Earth. Scientists were subsequently about to arrive at a rough idea of the size and the orbits of thousands of these new worlds, some of them larger than Jupiter, others “super-Earths” rocky worlds larger than Earth. The coronagraph instrument will allow WFIRST to image some of these exoplanets directly.

WFIRST will also help in the study of dark matter and dark energy which is thought to comprise most of the universe.

The telescope will do so by measuring “the distances of thousands of supernovae, astronomers can map in detail how cosmic expansion has increased with time.” The telescope “can precisely measure the shapes, positions and distances of millions of galaxies to track the distribution and growth of cosmic structures, including galaxy clusters and the dark matter accompanying them.”

WFIRST will also carry out a number of other astronomical observations by imaging some of the most interesting objects in the universe.

When WFIRST is launched a few years from now, it will be deployed at the Earth-Sun L2 point, directly opposite the Earth from the Sun, where the gravity of both bodies cancels one another out.

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