Since its launch in 2021, the James Webb Space Telescope has been delighting space fans with its stunning views of space objects near and far. But NASA has another space telescope in the works that will be able to help answer even more of the big questions in astronomy. The Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, set to launch in 2027 and colloquially known as Roman, will look at vast areas of space to help cosmologists understand the universe on a large scale.
In astronomy research, it’s important to be able to look both in very great detail and on a very wide scale. Telescopes like Hubble and James Webb have exceptional sensitivity, so they can look at extremely distant objects. Roman will be different, aiming to get a broad view of the sky. The image below illustrates the differences between the telescopes, showing what Roman and Hubble can capture in one go and comparing Hubble’s detailed, but narrow view to Roman’s much wider view.
“The Hubble and James Webb Space Telescopes are optimized for studying astronomical objects in depth and up-close, so they’re like looking at the universe through pinholes,” said Aaron Yung of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, who recently lead a study predicting the capabilities of Roman, in a statement. “To solve cosmic mysteries on the biggest scales, we need a space telescope that can provide a far larger view. That’s exactly what Roman is designed to do.”
Roman will be used for tasks like doing a survey to estimate how many exoplanets exist in the entire galaxy, and looking at the distribution of galaxies to help understand dark matter. One big advantage Roman has for this sort of work, along with its wide view, is that will take images very quickly. According to NASA, Roman will be able to map the universe up to 1,000 times faster than Hubble could.
“Roman will take around 100,000 pictures every year,” said Jeffrey Kruk, a research astrophysicist at Goddard. “Given Roman’s larger field of view, it would take longer than our lifetimes even for powerful telescopes like Hubble or Webb, to cover as much sky.”