Nearly a decade before it is launched in the mid-2020s, NASA and Ohio State University researchers have perfected the design of the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) which has the capacity to map distant universes beyond our Milky Way 100 times faster than the Hubble Space Telescope.
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Ohio State researchers Scott Gaudi, Chris Hirata, and David Weinberg were credited for playing major roles in developing the WFIRST design and ensuring NASA will be moving with it to the next stage of the project. The Ohio State team will also help with analyzing and interpreting the cosmic maps WFIRST sends back to Earth after it has been deployed.
NASA called for top researchers from institutions around the country to formulate the design phase of WFIRST before construction begins, and three members of Ohio State helped greatly with the project. The WFIRST will help with mapping hundreds of millions of galaxies that will be used to measure the growth of the universe and the clustering of dark matter – mostly in the face of the expanding universe.
Due to its wide field of view, WFIRST’s sensitivity to infrared light will enable it to detect thousands of microlensing planets that range from gas giants like Jupiter to rocky planets like Mars and Earth to thousands of free-floating rogue planets that are not orbiting any star.
Chris Hirata started working on WFIRST’s predecessor when he was assistant professor at the California Institute of Technology. His expertise convinced David Weinberg, professor of astronomy and physics and chair of the astronomy department, together with John Beacom, professor of physics and astronomy and director of Ohio State’s Center for Cosmology and AstroParticle Physics to bring Hirata to Ohio State.
“Chris has a more comprehensive understanding of WFIRST than anyone else on the planet,” Weinberg said, “because his expertise extends from the cosmological predictions that the mission is designed to test, down to the details of the telescope, the detectors and the spacecraft.”
And NASA too appreciates the contributions of the Ohio State experts.
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“Ohio State has made enormous contributions to WFIRST,” said WFIRST Project Scientist Neil Gehrels of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “David Weinberg, Chris Hirata and Scott Gaudi are world experts in dark energy and exo-planets, which are its two main science areas. After Hubble and the James Webb Space Telescope, WFIRST is going to be NASA’s next great optical and infrared observatory. It would not be moving forward without their seminal work.”