Universe  ID: 13497

Simulated Image Demonstrates the Power of NASA’s Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope

NASA’s Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope, WFIRST, will capture the equivalent of 100 high-resolution Hubble images in a single shot, imaging large areas of the sky 1,000 times faster than Hubble. In several months, WFIRST could survey as much of the sky in near-infrared light—in just as much detail—as Hubble has over its entire three decades.

Although WFIRST has not yet opened its wide, keen eyes on the universe, astronomers are already running simulations to demonstrate what it will be able to see and plan their observations.

This simulated image of a portion of our neighboring galaxy Andromeda (M31) provides a preview of the vast expanse and fine detail that can be covered with just a single pointing of WFIRST. Using information gleaned from hundreds of Hubble observations, the simulated image covers a swath roughly 34,000 light-years across, showcasing the red and infrared light of more than 50 million individual stars detectable with WFIRST.

While it may appear to be a somewhat haphazard arrangement of 18 separate images, the simulation actually represents a single shot. Eighteen square detectors, 16-megapixels each, make up WFIRST’s Wide Field Instrument (WFI) and give the telescope its unique window into space.

With each pointing, WFIRST will cover an area roughly 1⅓ times that of the full Moon. By comparison, each individual infrared Hubble image covers an area less than 1% of the full Moon.

WFIRST is designed to collect the big data needed to tackle essential questions across a wide range of topics, including dark energy, exoplanets, and general astrophysics spanning from our solar system to the most distant galaxies in the observable universe. Over its 5-year planned lifetime, WFIRST is expected to amass more than 20 petabytes of information on thousands of planets, billions of stars, millions of galaxies, and the fundamental forces that govern the cosmos.

For astronomers like Ben Williams of the University of Washington in Seattle, who generated the simulated data set for this image, WFIRST will provide a valuable opportunity to understand large nearby objects like Andromeda, which are otherwise extremely time-consuming to image because they are so big on the sky.

WFIRST could survey Andromeda nearly 1,500 times faster than Hubble, building a panorama of the main disk of the galaxy in just a few hours.

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Scott Wiessinger (USRA): Lead Producer
Scott Wiessinger (USRA): Narrator
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Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST)
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SVS >> Infrared
SVS >> Simulation
SVS >> Hubble Space Telescope
SVS >> Astrophysics
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NASA Science >> Universe
SVS >> Andromeda Galaxy
SVS >> Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope