With NASA's Hubble Space Telescope entering its advanced years, the space agency has begun studying designs for a new telescope that could replace the Hubble by 2030. One of these proposals was developed by a team of researchers from the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA).
In a report entitled From Cosmic Birth to Living Earth, AURA scientists, led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Sara Seager and the University of Washington's Julianne Dalcanton, envision a High-Definition Space Telescope (HDST) that would be five times larger than the Hubble.
The proposed super telescope would feature 12-meter high mirrors, and it would have the magnification power 100 times more powerful than NASA's current orbital telescope, allowing scientists to observe planetary atmospheres located in distant solar systems.
The AURA report also outlines plans for the future of American astronomy, such as proposals to observe the evolution of the universe and undertake a space mission to look for extraterrestrial life.
During a press conference held at the American Museum of Natural History, AURA President and former Hubble director Matt Mountain told reporters that their goal is to find out whether or not humans are the only beings in the universe.
Mountain added that humans are at a point when they could find out how the Earth and the universe were formed. He said that today's generation could be the one to make that discovery.
According to reports, the proposed High-Definition Space Telescope would cost the government around $10 billion to build, if NASA approves AURA's plans.
The release of AURA's report is the first step in what is considered to be a long and arduous process of choosing which major scientific projects should the government approve and fund.
Members of the National Academy of Sciences committee are tasked to survey the astronomical community every 10 years in order to produce a wish list of projects to be adopted in the next decade. The survey, which is scheduled to be conducted again in 2020, provides both NASA and the United States Congress with a blueprint to work on in the next few years.
This is the first time AURA has submitted a proposal for a space telescope to NASA. In 1995, the group, led by the Carnegie Observatories' Alan Dressler, provided the space agency with plans for an orbital telescope to succeed Hubble.
The proposal led to the creation of the James Webb Space Telescope, which is set to be launched in 2018, some 23 years later.
The cost for the development of the Webb telescope, however, went beyond the budget from the initial $1.6 billion set in 1996 to almost $9 billion.
To prevent a similar incident from happening, the astronomers from AURA have urged NASA to allocate funds for vital technologies now for the development of future telescopes.
Photo: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center | Flickr