Tue. Jun 25th, 2024

TLDR:

A next-generation exoplanet-imaging technology developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has successfully passed key tests as part of the agency’s Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope. The Coronagraph Instrument on the telescope aims to demonstrate new technologies that can greatly enhance scientists’ ability to directly observe exoplanets outside our solar system. The instrument will be able to block starlight and capture the faint light emitted by these distant planets, potentially increasing the number of exoplanets that can be studied. The recent tests ensured that the instrument’s electrical components do not interfere with the rest of the observatory and that it operates effectively in an isolated, electromagnetically quiet environment. The Coronagraph’s primary goal is to test advanced light-blocking capabilities that are at least ten times better than existing technologies, allowing researchers to observe challenging targets and make new scientific discoveries.

Key points:

  • A next-generation exoplanet-imaging technology, the Coronagraph Instrument, has successfully passed critical tests at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).
  • The instrument, built for the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, aims to increase scientists’ ability to directly observe exoplanets outside our solar system by blocking starlight and capturing the faint light emitted by these distant planets.
  • The Coronagraph’s recent tests ensured that its electrical components do not interfere with the rest of the observatory and that it operates effectively in an isolated, electromagnetically quiet environment.
  • The instrument’s primary goal is to test advanced light-blocking capabilities that are at least ten times better than existing technologies, enabling observations of challenging targets and potential scientific discoveries.

The Coronagraph Instrument, developed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), has successfully passed critical tests ahead of its launch as part of the agency’s Roman Space Telescope, planned for 2027. This cutting-edge tool aims to vastly increase the number of exoplanets that scientists can directly observe by blocking starlight and capturing the faint light emitted by these distant planets. The recent tests confirmed that the instrument’s electrical components do not interfere with the rest of the observatory and that it operates effectively in an isolated, electromagnetically quiet environment.

The Coronagraph’s primary goal is to test new technologies that have not been flown in space before, particularly its sophisticated light-blocking capabilities that are expected to be at least ten times better than existing technologies. These advances will make it possible to observe planets that are similar in size and distance from their star to Jupiter. The instrument’s camera is designed to detect individual photons, making it far more sensitive than previous coronagraphs. The recent tests were crucial to ensure that the instrument’s sensitive cameras are not affected by faint electrical signals produced by the spacecraft’s components, and vice versa, while operating in an isolated environment 1 million miles from Earth.

The lessons learned from the Coronagraph’s technology demonstration will be separate from the Roman Space Telescope’s primary mission, which includes generating some of the largest images of the universe ever taken from space. The telescope’s Wide Field Instrument will conduct surveys of stars, planets, and galaxies, as well as study the large-scale distribution of matter in the universe. The Roman Coronagraph will function as a complementary tool, enhancing scientists’ ability to study exoplanets and potentially make new scientific discoveries.

The Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope is managed at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, with participation from JPL. The Coronagraph Instrument was designed and built at JPL and is managed for NASA by JPL. Contributions to the instrument were made by the European Space Agency, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, the French space agency CNES, and the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany.