Is LUVOIR NASA’s Next Large Space Telescope?

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First Came Hubble. The James Webb Space Telescope Launches Next Year. But is LUVOIR Next?

It’s been thirty years since Hubble—NASA and the world’s first space telescope—launched and began to give us some of the most stunning images of the universe we’ve ever seen. Now Hubble’s time has come. After three decades of faithful service, this hallmark of human achievement retires, and its successor waits in the wings. Like the former, the James Webb Space Telescope will revolutionize the way we observe our universe when it launches a year from now.

But NASA projects sometimes take decades to complete. And at the rate technology is advancing, it’s not inconceivable that by the 2040s, Webb will be out of date and ready to retire. That’s why officials at NASA are already working on figuring out the next level of orbiting telescopes. 

The agency funded four projects recently with the potential to take deep space observation into the second half of the 21st century.

Meet The LUVOIR

It stands for “Large UV/Optical/IR Surveyor.” Which, as you’ve no doubt surmised, means it’s big. It has UV, Optical, and Infrared (IR) observational capabilities. But its really designed to provide extremely detailed data on “Earth-like” exoplanets.

Our current best instruments for studying such objects, run by the TESS space telescope, routinely find such planets. However, many are so far away that we simply don’t have the capability to study them in detail yet. 

LUVOIR would change all of that. Its design allows for the intimate study of exoplanets in much greater detail than our current capabilities provide. Despite the pictures LUVOIR will provide, however, distance is still an issue for those hoping to colonize exoplanets.

Most experts insist that even exoplanets in “nearby” solar systems are simply too far away to be viable solutions for human colonization. However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t study them. 

The big question when it comes to exoplanets is whether or not the possibility for life exists on them. The question of whether human beings are alone in the universe is one of the most fundamental questions we ask. And LUVOIR can help us find the answer. If NASA chooses it, that is… And that day’s a long way off.

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Brandon Humphreys

Brandon Humphreys

I'm a wizard. I write stuff and it goes from my head into yours - Magic! Apart from that, I am the Senior Editor for Space Porn, a veteran, a rock guitarist, and a teacher.

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