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17 April 2014 12:48 pm ,
Vol. 344 ,
Officials last week revealed that the U.S. contribution to ITER could cost $3.9 billion by 2034—roughly four times the...
An experimental hepatitis B drug that looked safe in animal trials tragically killed five of 15 patients in 1993. Now,...
Using the two high-quality genomes that exist for Neandertals and Denisovans, researchers find clues to gene activity...
A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that humanity has done little to slow...
Astronomers have discovered an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone of a red dwarf—a star cooler than the sun—500...
Three years ago, Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University proposed that a warming Arctic was altering the behavior of the...
- 17 April 2014 12:48 pm , Vol. 344 , #6181
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Spy Telescopes Could Advance U.S. Dark Energy Mission
4 June 2012 4:56 pm
The two telescopes were designed to gaze down upon Earth from space to collect intelligence. Now, NASA hopes to repurpose the instruments to study dark energy, extrasolar planets, and a host of other questions in astronomy.
The telescopes were originally supposed to be deployed by the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), which manages the nation's spy satellites, but were not needed. Last year, NRO offered the surplus instruments—each as big as the Hubble Space Telescope—as a gift to NASA. Over the past several months, NASA officials and a small group of astronomers have been developing a preliminary plan to use the telescopes as a component in the proposed Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) mission.
WFIRST was aimed at studying dark energy and exoplanets, but its estimated price tag of $1.5 billion and NASA's budget constraints had all but eliminated the possibility that NASA could pursue it before the mid-2020s. NRO's gift has revived hope that WFIRST could become viable sooner. The two instruments are currently sitting in a clean room in Rochester, New York, and are costing NASA about $100,000 a year to store.
"Most of my colleagues think it is an exciting prospect," says Paul Hertz, director of NASA's astrophysics division. However, officials caution that it will take some time to evaluate exactly how the telescopes would need to be repurposed and how much money NASA would save by incorporating them into the WFIRST mission.
David N. Spergel, an astronomer at Princeton University, is an unabashed booster of the idea. "This is a total game changer," Spergel told The New York Times.