NASA's Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope could snap the first image of Jupiter-like world

Its special detectors can count individual photos of light as they arrive.
Ameya Paleja
The telescope is named after Nancy Grace Roman, NASA's first Chief of AstronomyNASA

NASA's next Space Telescope is currently under construction and already has a mission in waiting, the capture of the first-ever image of a Jupiter-like world in the Upsilon Andromedae d, the space agency said in a recent post

The recently launched James Webb Space Telescope is still setting itself up to send us the first scientific image but that hasn't stopped NASA from working on its next space telescope, scheduled to be launched just five years from now. A Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIST), has been named Nancy Grace Roman to honor the contributions of NASA's first chief astronomer who is fondly remembered as the 'Mother of Hubble' Telescope. 

Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope

Currently used imaging techniques only allow for large and bright planets to be captured. Relatively young in their formation, these planets emit heat and revolve further away from their stars, and can be captured using infrared cameras by blocking the light from the star.

The Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope or Roman Space Telescope for short is being designed to capture these images in visible light. To do so, it will use its onboard coronagraph instrument - a system of masks, prisms, detectors, and self-flexing mirrors that will block out the light from the stars. 

The specially designed masks on the instrument have innovative and complex shapes that allow light from dimmer orbiting objects to pass through. Its deformable mirrors will subtract starlight in real-time and can also be programmed remotely to counteract imperfections that reduce image quality. 

Researchers associated with the project believe that the chronograph instrument on the Roman Space Telescope will be several hundred times better than the ones we currently have and will enable us to see planets that are a million times fainter than the stars they orbit around. 

The Coronagraph is currently undergoing technology demonstration and if all goes well, it allow astronomers to image disks around the stars as well that help us better understand the dust grains, their sizes, shapes, and possibly even mineral composition.  

The promise to go beyond Jupiter

The team of researchers has already identified a promising target for the Space Telescope when launched, an exoplanet in Upsilon Andromedae d. The gas giant is much bigger than Jupiter and is only 44 light-years away from us. Interestingly, it is within its star's habitable zone. 

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The detectors on the Roman Space Telescope are being designed to be able to detect even faint signals. These special detectors will be capable of measuring individual photons of light as they arrive. They might be separated by a few seconds or even minutes but the detectors will be capable of capturing them.  

Equipped with features that no other space observatory has been before, the Roman Space Telescope will also allow scientists to image smaller, older, and colder planets orbiting near their stars and which are likely to be more-Earth-like and support life.

Like the James Webb Space Telescope, delays could be expected but it is definitely worth the wait.