SCIENCE

NASA Has High Hopes For Powerful New Telescope

The Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope is meant to solve the mysteries of dark energy and seek out distant planets.

There's a new telescope on the horizon -- and it's huge.

NASA is planning to launch the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope, or WFIRST, in the mid-2020s. The telescope has a primary mirror that is 7.9 feet in diameter and will offer a view of the sky that is 100 times larger than what the Hubble Space Telescope provides.

The space agency released the new video above on Thursday to detail its ambitious plans for the telescope, which is meant to discover new exoplanets, unlock the secrets of dark energy and shed new light on the evolution of the cosmos.

"Telescopes generally come into two different flavors," Jason Kalirai, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, says in the video. "You have really powerful, big telescopes, but those telescopes see a tiny part of the sky. Or telescopes are smaller, and so they lack that power, but they can see big parts of the sky. WFIRST is the best of both worlds."

NASA officials had not been expecting to go forward with WFIRST mission plans until 2017 at the earliest, Science magazine reported. But since the agency's Program Management Council decided to move ahead on Wednesday, officials can now start creating a formal schedule for the six-year mission, which is estimated to cost between $2 billion to $2.3 billion, according to Space.com. WFIRST is currently headquartered at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

"WFIRST has the potential to open our eyes to the wonders of the universe, much the same way Hubble has," John Grunsfeld, an astronaut and associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, said in a statement.

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