How NASA’s Roman Telescope Will Illuminate the Mysteries of the Milky Way

NASA’s upcoming Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope will provide unprecedented views of the center of the Milky Way. Using primarily microlensing, the mission will observe hundreds of millions of stars, identifying the most distant exoplanet and revolutionizing time-domain astronomy.

NASANancy Grace Roman space telescopeSet for a 2027 release, it aims to revolutionize our understanding of it milky way With microlensing, we have the potential to detect new planets, black holes, and cosmic events.

NASA’s Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope will provide one of the deepest views into the heart of our Milky Way galaxy. The mission will monitor hundreds of millions of stars, looking for tell-tale flickers that might betray the presence of planets, distant stars, small icy objects that lurk on the outskirts of our solar system, isolated black holes, and more. Roman would set a new record known far and wide extraterrestrialIt offers a glimpse into a different interstellar environment that could be home to worlds unlike the more than 5,500 currently known.


Watch this video to learn about time-domain astronomy and how time can be a key component of the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope’s galactic bulge survey. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Revolutionary time-domain astronomy

Roman’s long-term sky observations, enabling these results, represent a boon to what scientists call time-domain astronomy, which studies how the universe changes over time. Roman will join a growing, international monitoring group working together to capture these changes as they unfold. Roman’s Galactic Bulge Time-Domain Survey will focus on the Milky Way, using the telescope’s infrared vision (see video below) to see through the clouds of dust that block our view of the central region of our galaxy.

„ROMAN will be an incredible discovery engine, combining a wide view of space with sharp vision,” said Julie McNary, ROMAN senior project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. „Its time-domain probes will provide a treasure trove of new information about the universe.”


NASA’s Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope can probe even more cosmological questions with a new infrared filter. This upgrade will open up exciting new opportunities for discoveries from the edge of our solar system to the far reaches of space, to see longer wavelengths of light. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Microlensing and its importance

When Roman launches in May 2027, the mission will probe the center of the Milky Way for microlensing events, which occur when an object such as a star or planet comes into near-perfect alignment with a background star unrelated to our view. Because anything with mass Distorts the fabric of space-time, light from a distant star bends around a nearby object. The nearby object therefore acts as a natural magnifying glass, creating a temporary spike in the brightness of the background star’s light. That signal lets astronomers know the presence of intervening matter, even if it can’t be seen directly.

Besancon Galactic Model NASA Roman

A simulated image of ROMAN’s observations toward the center of our galaxy covers less than 1 percent of the total area of ​​ROMAN’s Galactic Bulge time-domain survey. The simulated stars are taken from the Besancon Galactic sample. Credit: Matthew Penny (Louisiana State University)

Current plans include the survey taking an image every 15 minutes around the clock for about two months. Astronomers will observe this process over a year, repeating it six times during Roman’s five-year primary mission.

„This is one of the longest exposures of the sky ever taken,” said Scott Gowdy, a professor of astronomy at Ohio State University in Columbus, whose research is helping to inform Roman’s surveying strategy. „And it covers mostly uncharted territory when it comes to planets.”

Discovery Expectations

Astronomers expect the survey to reveal more than a thousand planets orbiting farther from their host stars and in systems farther from Earth than any previous mission has found. Some of them may lie within their host star’s habitable zone — the range of orbital distances where liquid water can exist on the surface — and include worlds weighing a few times the mass of the Moon.

Roman Space Telescope Microlensing Observations

This artist’s view shows part of the Galactic Colon time-domain survey of the Milky Way Roman. The high density of stars in this direction will produce more than 50,000 microlensing events, revealing planets, black holes, neutron stars, trans-Neptunian objects and enabling exciting stellar science. The survey will also cover relatively uncharted territory when it comes to planet-discovery. The way planets form and evolve may differ depending on where they are located in the galaxy. Our solar system is located on the outskirts of the Milky Way, about halfway up one of the galaxy’s spiral arms. A recent Kepler space telescope study has shown that stars at the edges of the Milky Way have few of the most common types of planets ever discovered. Roman will search in the opposite direction toward the center of the galaxy, and see differences in that galactic neighborhood as well. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/CI Laboratory

Roman can even detect „rogue” worlds that don’t orbit a star using microlensing. These cosmic castaways may have evolved in isolation or been ejected from their home planetary systems. Studying them provides clues about how planetary systems form and evolve.

Roman’s microlensing observations will also help astronomers investigate how common planets exist around different types of stars, including binary systems. The mission will estimate how many worlds with two host stars exist in our galaxy, building on work started by NASA that identified real-life „Tatooine” planets. Kepler Space Telescope and TESS (The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite).

Some of the objects detected by the survey are in the cosmic gray region. Called brown dwarfs, they are too massive to be classified as planets, but not massive enough to ignite as stars. Studying them will allow astronomers to probe the boundary between planet and star formation.

Roman is expected to discover more than a thousand neutron stars and hundreds of stellar-mass black holes. These heavyweights form after a massive star has exhausted its fuel and collapsed. Black holes are nearly impossible to detect when they don’t have a visible companion to indicate their presence, but since microlensing relies solely on an object’s gravitational pull, they can be detected even without a Roman companion. The mission will also find isolated neutron stars – the remaining cores of stars that are not massive enough to become black holes.


This animation compares signals from two planet detection methods: microlensing (top) and transit (bottom) for high- and low-mass planets. Microlensing creates spikes in a star’s brightness, while transits have the opposite effect. Because both methods involve tracking the amount of light we receive from stars over time, astronomers can use the same data set for both methods. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/CI Laboratory

Cosmic objects and star studies

Astronomers use Roman to find thousands Kuiper calls objects, mostly icy bodies scattered beyond Neptune. The telescope is as small as a few six miles across (about 1 percent). Plutodiameter), sometimes by seeing them directly from reflected sunlight and other times by blocking the light of background stars.

A similar shadow play would reveal 100,000 transiting planets between Earth and the center of the galaxy. These worlds pass in front of their host star, temporarily dimming the light we receive from the star. This method can reveal planets orbiting much closer to their host stars than microlensing can, and some are in the habitable zone.

Scientists will also conduct stellar seismic surveys of a million giant stars. It involves analyzing brightness changes caused by sound waves bouncing off a star’s gaseous interior to learn about its composition, age and other properties.

These science discoveries and more will come from ROMAN’s Galactic Bulge Time-Domain Survey, which will last less than a quarter of the time of ROMAN’s five-year primary mission. Its broad view of space will allow astronomers to conduct many of these studies in ways not possible before, giving us a new view of the ever-changing universe.

The Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope is managed at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, with contributions from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Caltech/IPAC in Southern California, the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, and a science team of various scientists. Research institutes. Primary industrial partners are Paul Aerospace and Technologies Corporation of Boulder, Colorado; L3Harris Technologies in Melbourne, Florida; and TeleDyne Scientific & Imaging in Thousand Oaks, California.

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