Skip to main content

Preparing for Panoramic Views

18 boxes, broken into six columns of three, which represent Roman’s field of view, are overlaid on a field of galaxies. The two outermost columns are closer to the bottom of the image than the middle two columns, which are slightly lower than the center two columns. Below the centermost columns is a label that says, “Roman field of view.”

STScI ramps up community engagement with the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope and continues to make progress building software for the mission.

About This Article

Left of center are two bright blue circular shapes that appear to be joined toward the center of the frame. They are whitest on their outermost edges. These shapes represent illustrations of neutron stars merging. Debris, which is also white and bright blue, emanates in misshapen patterns primarily from where they are joining at the center. The debris extends all around the frame. The background is black.
Roman will be able to capture the light from kilonovae, explosions that happen when two neutron stars or a neutron star and a black hole collide and merge. With the data it collects, astronomers can better identify how often these events occur, how much energy they give off, and how near or far away they are. This is supported by Roman’s large field of view, represented by the image at the top of the page. Learn how Roman will identify these explosions.

The launch and commissioning of the James Webb Space Telescope showed us again how interested the global astronomical community is in using new tools and technologies to study the universe’s mysteries. Astronomers have been preparing for the next space telescope for more than a decade: The Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, which will survey extraordinarily wide views of the cosmos in near-infrared light. Roman’s camera, or Wide Field Instrument, will capture images that are 200 times the size of those from the Hubble Space Telescope’s near-infrared camera, with the same resolution but at much greater speeds. The galaxies it will reveal will number in the millions. Roman’s Coronagraph Instrument, a technology demonstration, is designed to demonstrate the feasibility of the next generation of space-based coronagraphs, leading the way for a future NASA mission that will image Earth-like planets. 

Throughout 2022, science and engineering teams worked to ensure the observatory is ready to meet these goals. The Wide Field Instrument’s element wheel assembly, which houses eight science filters, a grism and a prism, and a blank element, were completed and installed. At the same time, assembly has begun on the Coronagraph Instrument. The observatory is well on its way to being fully constructed.

The mission’s software is being actively developed by STScI and its partners, with the institute being responsible for the proposal planning and scheduling software, and the imaging data processing pipeline for the Wide Field Instrument. The first release of STScI’s software will happen in March 2023. Much of the development of this software relied on not only the software built for Webb, but also the expertise of Webb’s engineers, many of whom also actively support Roman. As Roman’s hardware and software continue to evolve, so will the collaboration between the Webb and Roman teams, ensuring that the lessons from Webb lead to improvements for Roman. 

Given the large swaths of the sky Roman will observe, the amount of data it will produce will be substantial—far more than any single computer is capable of processing. The Barbara A. Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes expects 20,000 terabytes of data from Roman over five years. STScI is already hosting large amounts of data from other missions in the cloud, and building tools to allow researchers to perform data analysis in the cloud.

Committees and Communities

The majority of the mission’s time will be spent on the Core Community Surveys, which are intended to address key science themes, including probing the nature of dark energy, detecting exoplanets toward the center of our Milky Way galaxy, and surveying transient phenomena outside our galaxy. Surveys are inherently multipurpose and will also enable a broad range of complementary wide-field infrared astrophysical investigations. At least 25% of the five years of Roman’s prime mission will be devoted to competed General Astrophysics Surveys, covering topics beyond the reach of these surveys. The Core Community Surveys will be defined by a community driven process, designed to optimize each to span a broad set of topics, while addressing the key science themes. Survey-specific committees will gather and integrate input from the astronomical community about how to maximize the science of each.

STScI, as the Science Operations Center for Roman, continues to play a leading role in engaging the astronomical community. STScI developed a two-step process to obtain input from the community about how to define the Core Community Surveys to maximize the science return of Roman and benefit the entire astronomical community while meeting mission requirements. The request for community input was kicked off in early January 2023, followed by a splinter session at the January 2023 American Astronomical Society meeting, and virtual informational sessions in the following weeks. Capturing broad and diverse input is critical to maximize Roman’s science return. 

Roman’s Ongoing Collaborations

Researchers need not use Roman alone. They will frequently combine its data with those from Hubble and Webb. Roman will also team up with the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile. Rubin will observe large portions of the sky in the southern hemisphere, covering more area than Roman but in visible light and at lower angular resolution. From space, Roman will provide complementary near-infrared survey data. Given the harmony between these two observatories, a special working group identified frontier science questions that can be uniquely addressed by Roman and Rubin together. 

The collaboration among scientists around the world will be key to Roman’s successes. In the coming year, STScI will host a conference to further engage the community, and there will be a call for white papers that will allow Roman’s survey committees to better understand how the Core Community Surveys can be defined to maximize Roman’s science return. With hardware and software development on track, and the community becoming more and more engaged, Roman’s science goals are in sight in anticipation of Roman’s launch in late 2026.

White man in a suit pointing at screen that shows a simulated Roman Space Telescope observation. Four people are in the foreground watching him present.
Astronomer Harry Ferguson gave a talk at the June American Astronomical Society meeting about Roman’s Science Operations Center Data Management System. He highlighted how the mission’s data will be easier to access and analyze in the cloud. Presentations like these engage the astronomical community in the upcoming mission’s scientific capabilities.
White woman in a suit jacket and jeans speaking into a microphone and pointing toward the left.
Astronomer Andreea Petric gave a presentation at the June American Astronomical Society meeting to preview Roman’s abilities to study active galactic nuclei, better known as active supermassive black holes.

 

Deep field shows a multitude of galaxies, most that appear as tiny white dots, across the field, which has a black background. One galaxy at top left and three at bottom left have tiny boxes around them. At right, those galaxy images are set in larger boxes and paired with a respective spectrum, a wide, fuzzy red line.
About 2 to 3 billion years after the big bang, most galaxies went through a growth spurt, forming stars at a rate hundreds of times higher than today. When it launches, the Roman Space Telescope is poised to reveal new insights into this time of galactic development. Learn how Roman’s wide field of view, combined with its spectroscopic capabilities, can answer key questions about “cosmic noon.”