Do you remember the Hubble Deep Field? And its successor, the Hubble Ultra Deep Field? That's what we do here at Universe Today. How could we forget them?
Just like the Hubble Space Telescope has successors, so do two of its most famous images. And these successors will come from one of the successors to Hubble, NASA's Roman space telescope.
The Hubble Deep Field and the Ultra Deep Field showed a generation of people how expansive and wondrous the universe is. They showed that even empty-looking patches of sky are actually full of galaxies. All sizes, shapes and ages of galaxies.
And the Roman Space Telescope – also called the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope – (and formerly called WFIRST) will surpass these images with its own images. And they could correspond to 100 Hubble ultra-deep fields at the same time. The mind is equally blown, as the children say.
This is the original NASA version of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field. Among all the galaxies in the image, there are about 10,000 of the most distant galaxies. They are the smallest and redest, and did not exist long after the Big Bang. Photo credit: From NASA and the European Space Agency. Edited by Noodle Snacks – http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/archive/releases/2004/07/image/a/warn/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php? curid = 5276968
The Roman space telescope is scheduled to launch in 2025 on a five-year mission. It will examine some of the compelling questions surrounding cosmology and exoplanets on the cutting edge of research. To achieve this, it has a serious power of observation.
Its primary mirror is 2.4 m in diameter and the size of the Hubble. However, the first working name of the Roman telescope was WFIRST, which stands for wide field infrared survey telescope. The wide-field part of its name means that it can represent an area of the sky that is much wider than Hubble. Up to 100 times wider or more.
Watching the time with the Romans will be very popular. Much of that time is taken up with extensive surveys that cover large parts of the sky. But some of the time is available and made available to anyone who puts together a great observation proposal. According to some members of astronomy, a Roman ultra-deep-field observation like the Hubble ultra-deep-field should be a priority and could offer many benefits.
An example of what the Roman Ultra Deep Field would look like compared to the Hubble. Photo credit: NASA, ESA and A. Koekemoer (STScI)
Confirmation: Digitized sky survey
Anton Koekemoer is a research astrophysicist at the Hubble Space Telescope at the Space Telescope Science Institute. At the 237th meeting of the American Astronomical Society, he presented the idea for a Roman Ultra Deep Field. His idea is currently supported by astronomers from more than 30 institutions.
In a press release, Koekemoer spoke out in favor of the project. “As a collaborative science concept, there could be exciting scientific results from Roman's extremely deep field observations. We want to get the astronomical community to think about how to use Roman's capabilities, ”he said.
This is a picture of the Andromeda Galaxy. It comes from one of the largest Hubble programs ever carried out, the Panchromatic Hubble Andromeda Treasury Program. To do this, astronomers took 400 different points with Hubble (blue square) and connected them to create a wide field mosaic. The image is now the gold standard for understanding the detailed composition of galaxies like the Milky Way. The red outline shows Roman's enormous footprint superimposed on this Hubble mosaic. It would only take two Roman points to cover the entire region Hubble explored in this mosaic with the same depth and sharpness. Photo credit: NASA and STScI
Hubble used approximately one hundred hours of its coveted observation time to collect its ultra deep field. It would take about as long for the Roman space telescope to take a similar image. But while Hubble's picture contained thousands of galaxies, the Roman telescope would contain millions of them. Who can accurately predict what new sciences and discoveries would result from the effort?
In these millions of galaxies would be some of the oldest ever imaged. While the Hubble's deep picture contained only a handful of these elusive targets, Roman's deep picture could include hundreds of them, possibly thousands. That would be a huge boost to our study of the early universe. It could allow astronomers to study how these ancient galaxies are grouped, how old they are, and how their stars formed.
This scaled down video starts with the Hubble Ultra Deep Field and zooms out to show the field of view of the Roman Space Telescope.
In addition, the Roman telescope would work with other powerful telescopes, which can only further improve our understanding.
"Roman would also achieve strong synergies with current and future ground and space telescopes, including NASA's James Webb Space Telescope and others," said Koekemoer.
As telescopes become more powerful, they generate larger amounts of detailed data. But all of this data needs to be handled properly, and there is just too much of it for astronomers to manage on their own. The Roman space telescope will generate an enormous amount of data, and scientists are developing ways to deal with it.
Most of it revolves around machine learning and AI.
If another super-powerful telescope, the Vera C. Rubin Observatory, goes online sometime this year, it will generate an almost overwhelming amount of observational data. The scientific community prepared for this massive flow of data years in advance. The Rubin Observatory has special infrastructure to do everything. Northwestern University even implemented a new program to train young data scientists to study it.
An illustration of the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope. Photo credit: NASA
The Roman Space Telescope will rely on similar data processing functions. It will rely on machine learning to process the massive database it has created. If any image can contain information about millions of individual galaxies, it will take elite computing power to understand everything.
"The discovery potential made possible by the vast datasets of the Roman mission could lead to breakthroughs in our understanding of the universe beyond what we currently envision."
Anton Koekemoer, research astrophysicist, Hubble Space Telescope / Space Telescope Science Institute.
But of course, all of this data isn't just a chore, it's an unprecedented opportunity. "You could investigate completely new questions that you could not answer before," explained Koekemoer.
The flow of data is also likely to raise some new questions that no one expected. "The discovery potential made possible by the vast datasets of the Roman mission could lead to breakthroughs in our understanding of the universe beyond what we can currently imagine," added Koekemoer. "That could be Roman's enduring legacy for the scientific community: not just in answering the scientific questions we think we answer, but also in answering new questions we haven't thought of yet."
Indeed, claims about the Roman's powers of observation can be underestimated. In fact, the novel is like a combination of the Hubble Space Telescope and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS). The Hubble can't do everything, especially when it comes to UV observations. But for many of the observation programs it will conduct, the Roman is literally hundreds of times more powerful than the Hubble. And the huge field of vision puts it in a league with the SDSS.
The synergy with other observatories cannot really be overstated either. Some very rare galaxies will be included in the massive Roman datasets. Once identified, they can be examined more closely using the James Webb Space Telescope and its powerful spectroscopy and IR capabilities.
The Roman Space Telescope will also test some of our most powerful and detailed simulations of the universe. Astronomers and cosmologists have used supercomputers to create simulations of the universe as it unfolds over time. These data-based simulations show that galaxies began to group together between about 800 million and 1 billion years after the Big Bang when dark matter exerted its influence on them. It was then that the vast structure of the universe took shape. The Roman will be able to look at a large number of galaxies from this period and compare them with simulations.
The study of star formation is an area of research that the Romans should also shed light on. Cosmologists talk about the "Cosmic Dawn" and the "Cosmic Noon", which cover a period between about 500 million years and 3 billion years after the Big Bang. During this time, stars were being born at a wild pace, much faster than they are today. Scientists also believe that supermassive black holes (SMBHs) were most active during this time.
According to Sangeeta Malhotra of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, who is also a co-investigator on the Roman scientific investigation teams, Roman's wide field of view will be a huge boost to the study of these eras.
“Because Roman's field of vision is so large, it will change the game. We could scan not just one environment in a narrow field of view, but a variety of environments captured by Roman's wide eyes. This gives us a better sense of where and when star formation took place. “Said Malhotra.
The main mirror of the Römer is manufactured by the L3Harris company. In this picture, Bonnie Patterson of L3Harris is standing with the finished primary mirror for the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope (Photo credit: L3Harris)
Star formation rates in different regions contain a lot of information for astronomers, and this is another area that the Romans will excel in. “Population experts might ask what differences are there between people living in big cities and people living in suburbs in rural areas? Similarly, as astronomers, the most active star-forming galaxies live in very clustered regions, or just on the edges of clusters, or do they live in isolation? “Said Malhotra.
The Roman Space Telescope will also boost exoplanet research. Its powerful coronagraph will allow it to map huge exoplanets and give us some unprecedented high-resolution views of them. It will be able to study protoplanetary disks in the same way and will help us understand if there are other solar systems like ours and how common or rare they are.
The Roman will join the JWST as our premier space telescope. It is also part of a whole group of telescopes and observatories going online in the next few years that jointly promise to advance astronomy in ways we are not yet sure of. This group includes the giant Magellan telescope, the 30 meter telescope, the European extreme large telescope and others.
The Roman Space Telescope is said to improve our understanding of the universe in many detailed, research-oriented ways. It's important and exciting. However, for many people, the ultra deep field images are the most compelling. Such images can become part of our social narrative and influence the way nonscientists think about the earth, humanity and the universe. Just look at the impact the Hubble images had on an entire generation of people.
In some ways, these deep, broad images of the cosmos may be more important than any purely scientific advances.
The Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope is scheduled to launch sometime in 2025, if all goes well. Once launched, it will be placed in Halo orbit at the Sun-Earth L2 point. It will take five years there, maybe more, to observe in both optical and near infrared.