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Feb 22, 2016 01:23 PM EST

NASA Begins Preparations for 'Dark Energy'-Seeking Telescope

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With the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope inching closer to completion, NASA is starting to prepare for its next great telescope.

The space agency announced late last week it "formally starting an astrophysics mission designed to help unlock the secrets of the universe." And to do that, NASA will build the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST).

"WFIRST has the potential to open our eyes to the wonders of the universe, much the same way Hubble has," John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate at Headquarters in Washington D.C., said in the news release. "This mission uniquely combines the ability to discover and characterize planets beyond our own solar system with the sensitivity and optics to look wide and deep into the universe in a quest to unravel the mysteries of dark energy and dark matter."

As Space.com noted, the WFIRST will incorporate two repurposed "Hubble class spy telescopes." The telescope is expected to launch in the mid-2020s, and does not have a set timeline for completion. NASA is currently preoccupied with getting the James Webb Space Telescope ready for its 2018 launch.

"WFIRST is designed to address science areas identified as top priorities by the astronomical community," Paul Hertz, director of NASA's Astrophysics Division in Washington, said in the release. "The Wide-Field Instrument will give the telescope the ability to capture a single image with the depth and quality of Hubble, but covering 100 times the area. The coronagraph will provide revolutionary science, capturing the faint, but direct images of distant gaseous worlds and super-Earths."

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