PASADENA – A new space mission announced by NASA on Wednesday will allow astronomers to study the universe like they never have before, gathering data on more than 300 million galaxies and more than 100 million stars in the Milky Way.
Designed to explore the origin of the universe, the Spectro-Photometer for the History of the Universe, Epoch of Reionization and Ices Explorer – SPHEREx – is set to launch in 2023. The satellite will create a map of the entire sky every six months in 96 wavelengths of light, which will provide much more resolution than previous maps.
Scientists will explore distant stars with SPHEREx, some as far as 10 billion light-years away, and astronomers hope to peer into what made the universe expand so quickly after the Big Bang. The planned two-year mission will also search for water and organic molecules in regions where stars are formed from gas and dust, as well as debris around stars where new planets are formed.
Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate said, “This amazing mission will be a treasure trove of unique data for astronomers. It will deliver an unprecedented galactic map containing ‘fingerprints’ from the first moments in the universe’s history.”
The mission will identify targets for more detailed study by future NASA missions.
Caltech will work with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to put together a mission payload. Ball Aerospace in Colorado will provide the spacecraft while South Korea’s Astronomy and Space Science Institute will contribute test equipment. JPL will manage the mission.
The mission has a price tag of $242 million, not counting launch costs.