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article imageNASA's SPHEREx Mission will be a new eye tracking the heavens

By Karen Graham     Feb 14, 2019 in Science
NASA has announced a new space telescope mission dedicated to understanding the origins of life and the universe. It's called the Spectro-Photometer for the History of the Universe, Epoch of Reionization and Ices Explorer or SPHEREx, for short.
NASA has selected a launch date of 2023 for SPHEREx. The mission is designed to last two years and budgeted to cost $242 million, not including launch costs.
“I’m really excited about this new mission,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine in a statement. “Not only does it expand the United States’ powerful fleet of space-based missions dedicated to uncovering the mysteries of the universe, but it is also a critical part of a balanced science program that includes missions of various sizes.”
The milky way and meteors of the April Lyrids annual meteor shower in the night sky over the Baltic ...
The milky way and meteors of the April Lyrids annual meteor shower in the night sky over the Baltic Sea
Daniel Reinhardt, dpa/AFP/File
The SPHEREx proposal was submitted to NASA in 2014 by Cal Tech. It was selected for further conceptual development (Phase A) on July 30, 2015, for the Small Explorer program (SMEX). While the proposal was not selected for SMEX, an enhanced version of SPHEREx was submitted in December 2016 as a Medium-Class Explorer (MIDEX), and it was selected as a finalist in August 2017, along two other competing missions: Arcus, and FINESSE.
The mission's principal investigator is James Bock of Caltech in Pasadena, California. Caltech will work with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to develop the mission payload. JPL will also manage the mission.
SPHEREx will survey the whole sky every six months to collect optical as well as near-infrared light-gathering data in 96 different wavelengths. Astronomers will be able to gather data on over 300 million galaxies, as far as 10 billion light-years away from Earth, as well as more than 100 million stars in our own Milky Way.
SPHEREx's main goal is to search for the fundamentals of life — water and organic matter — within the Milky Way. And beyond our galaxy, it will also be looking at the wider regions of the universe, where stars are born. This will give scientists targets for more detailed study in future missions, like NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope and Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope, according to Engadget.
"This amazing mission will be a treasure trove of unique data for astronomers," Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said in the same statement. "It will deliver an unprecedented galactic map containing 'fingerprints' from the first moments in the universe's history. And we'll have new clues to one of the greatest mysteries in science: What made the universe expand so quickly less than a nanosecond after the big bang?"
More about SPHEREx mission, Space Telescope, evolution of the universe, ingredients for life, Science
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