Professors Jeffrey Newman and Michael Wood-Vasey are part of a team that has been selected to help prepare for the upcoming WFIRST space telescope. Professor Saul Perlmutter (2011 Nobel Prize winner) leads this Science Investigation Team.
The team’s work will focus on developing methods to study the mysterious Dark Energy using observations of Type Ia Supernovae, cataclysmic explosions of white dwarf stars whose apparent brightness allows us to determine their distances, and hence how the Universe has grown over time. Scientifically, the WFIRST supernova program is unique in the broad range of cosmic time it will cover, reaching up to 10 billion years into the past. This Science Investigation Team is helping to develop the Integral Field Unit (IFU) spectrograph on WFIRST, which will allow in-depth studies of the supernovae WFIRST will discover, with only minimal contamination from their host galaxies’ light. Professor Newman will also use this instrument to explore galaxies themselves, helping to improve other probes of Dark Energy. NASA recently announced that WFIRST will be NASA’s next major space telescope after the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope in 2018; it should begin operations in the first half of the next decade.