ESA to consider new infrared space telescope

Highly sensitive instruments will peer into the hidden universe.
By Laurel Kornfeld | May 15, 2018
The European Space Agency (ESA) is considering the development of a new infrared space telescope as one of its upcoming medium-class missions.

Titled the Space Infrared Telescope for Cosmology and Astrophysics (SPICA), the observatory, which would be developed jointly by the ESA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), would study the formation, growth, and evolution of both galaxies and planetary systems.

Because infrared radiation is not absorbed by dust, which is ubiquitous in the universe, an infrared telescope can look within dusty areas such as the inner regions of galaxies, molecular clouds in which stars are forming, and protoplanetary disks surrounding young stars.

According to the proposal, SPICA would be 2.5 meters in diameter, cooled to very low temperatures just above absolute zero to reduce any radiation it emits, and equipped with highly sensitive instruments scientists could use to observe the most distant parts of the universe.

SPICA will be developed over the next two years by scientists at Cardiff University's School of Physics and Astronomy.

One of its instruments, known as SAFARI, will be constructed together with colleagues representing 20 different institutions from 15 countries around the globe.

Cardiff University scientists will concentrate on SAFARI's optical instruments, which will control the wavelengths of light it will transmit. Researchers from Cambridge University will focus on SAFARI's superconducting detector system.

"Selection by ESA for this study is an important milestone for SPICA. This observatory promises a huge leap in our ability to study the universe. With its super-cool telescope and ultra-sensitive detectors, it will be hundreds of times more sensitive than previous infrared space telescopes," emphasized UK SAFARI spokesperson Matt Griffin, head of Cardiff's School of Physics and Astronomy.

"Cardiff's unique experience and expertise, developed in working on previous space missions, is essential to make SPICA possible. We expect this intensive two-year study to demonstrate that this great observatory is ready to fly," Peter Ade, also pf Cardiff's School of Physics and Astronomy, said.

Two other ESA candidate projects will also be developed over the next two years.

If selected, SPICA will be launched in about 10 years.

 

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