NASA’s Large Ultraviolet/Optical/Infrared Surveyor, known as LUVOIR, is a proposed multipurpose space telescope. This initiative represents an effort to build a comprehensive science observatory that could significantly expand our understanding of the cosmos.
LUVOIR is designed to operate across a wide range of light wavelengths, from ultraviolet (UV) to near-infrared (NIR). As its name suggests, it has the capability to conduct surveys in ultraviolet, optical, and infrared spectrums, providing detailed observations in these regions.
This project was recommended as a high priority mission in the 2020 Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey (“Astro2020”), conducted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. If selected, it will serve as a cornerstone for future astrophysics research.
LUVOIR’s Design and Features
There are currently two versions of LUVOIR under consideration: LUVOIR-A and LUVOIR-B. LUVOIR-A is designed with a large, 15-meter primary mirror, while LUVOIR-B features a smaller, 8-meter primary mirror. The former offers more light gathering power and better spatial resolution but at a higher cost and technical risk than the latter. Both versions would have a segmented primary mirror similar to that of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).
LUVOIR would carry a suite of sophisticated scientific instruments capable of a wide range of observations. Among these, a high-definition imager for broad surveys, an ultraviolet spectrograph for detailed UV studies, and a coronagraph for direct imaging of exoplanets are planned to be included.
Important Objectives of LUVOIR
Understanding Galaxy Formation and Evolution
One of the key objectives of LUVOIR involves studying the formation and evolution of galaxies. It intends to investigate galaxies across a wide range of distances, therefore covering different epochs of cosmic history. This would provide scientists with an important opportunity to observe how galaxies change over time and the processes involved in their evolution.
Direct Imaging of Exoplanets
LUVOIR proposes a unique ability to directly image exoplanets, including those in the habitable zones of their stars. This could significantly enhance our ability to search for signs of life beyond our solar system. By using its advanced coronagraph, LUVOIR would be able to block out the light from a star, enabling the detection and characterization of orbiting planets that would otherwise be lost in the star’s glare.
Studying the Early Universe
LUVOIR will provide unprecedented opportunities to study the early universe. With its high-resolution spectrograph, it will be able to observe faint, distant galaxies, revealing the earliest periods of galaxy formation.
Future Perspectives for LUVOIR
The Large Ultraviolet/Optical/Infrared Surveyor will serve as a transformative tool for astrophysics research, if realized. By providing a broader and deeper view of the universe, LUVOIR will not only enable the investigation of fundamental questions about the cosmos but also pave the way for unexpected discoveries.
While the challenges associated with building and deploying such a large and complex observatory are significant, the potential scientific rewards are immense. Should it come to fruition, LUVOIR would undoubtedly represent a major advancement in our capacity to explore the universe.
The project is currently in the concept and technology development phase.
LUVOIR represents an ambitious vision for the future of space-based astronomy, offering unprecedented capabilities for observing the universe across a wide range of light wavelengths. From understanding galaxy evolution to directly imaging exoplanets and studying the early universe, the scientific objectives of LUVOIR are both broad and profound. Springtown