Artist's concept of Next Generation Space Telescope
Artist's concept of Next Generation Space Telescope

NASA has chosen the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., as the U.S. partner in developing the Mid-Infrared Instrument on the Next Generation Space Telescope, which will look back in time more than 90 percent of the history of the universe.

The instrument will be developed in partnership with a European consortium sponsored by the European Space Agency. The telescope is part of NASA's Origins Program, which explores the formation of galaxies, stars, planets and life. It will replace the aging Hubble Space Telescope in 2009.

The instrument has enormous potential for discovery. It will provide imaging and spectroscopy, which studies different wavelengths of light. The Mid-Infrared Instrument will 'see' objects at wavelengths measuring between 5 and 28 millionths of a meter -- about the same wavelength as heat emitted by the human body.

The primary goals of the Next Generation Space Telescope are to understand the formation and evolution of galaxies and the creation of the first heavy elements, such as carbon, nitrogen and oxygen. The Mid-Infrared Instrument will study old stars and examine active galaxies with very bright cores. It will also study starburst galaxies, which have high rates of star formation. In addition, the new instrument will allow scientists to peer into dust disks around stars, where planets may be forming.

The winning proposal was developed and presented by Dr. Charles Beichman, chief scientist of astronomy and physics at JPL; JPL's Dr. Avinash Karnik, project manager; and JPL's Dr. Gene Serabyn, instrument scientist, with support from various technical experts at JPL. A joint science team for NASA and the European Space Agency will develop functional requirements for the instrument, oversee its construction, and carry out an initial science program. The remaining U.S. members of the science team will be selected through an announcement of opportunity later this year.

The Next Generation Space Telescope is managed for NASA by Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. JPL is managed for NASA by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

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