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NASA will ‘discover how universe was born’ with $343 million SphereX probe

Harry Pettit, February 18, 2019 6:30PM The Sun

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The SphereX probe will explore the origins of the universe. Picture: NASA media_cameraThe SphereX probe will explore the origins of the universe. Picture: NASA

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A pioneering new NASA spacecraft will peer into the beginning of time to explore how the universe began.

The $343 million SphereX probe*, due to launch in 2023, will measure how light shines from ancient galaxies that are billions of light years* from Earth.

It also aims to help in our search for aliens by uncovering how common certain building blocks for life are.

Light from the Big Bang is still moving towards the Earth. The SphereX craft will peer into the distance to detect and measure light from long ago. media_cameraLight from the Big Bang is still moving towards the Earth. The SphereX craft will peer into the distance to detect and measure light from long ago.

“This amazing mission will be a treasure trove of unique* data for astronomers*,” said NASA’s Thomas Zurbuchen.

“It will deliver an unprecedented* galactic* map containing ‘fingerprints*’ from the first moments in the universe’s history.

“And we’ll have new clues to one of the greatest mysteries in science: What made the universe expand so quickly less than a nanosecond* after the big bang?”

The Whirlpool Galaxy, a famous spiral galaxy. It and our own Milky Way Galaxy are moving apart at over 400 kilometres per second. Picture: NASA/ESA media_cameraThe Whirlpool Galaxy, a famous spiral galaxy. It and our own Milky Way Galaxy are moving apart at over 400 kilometres per second. Picture: NASA/ESA

The spacecraft will examine galaxies near and far, some so distant their light has taken 10 billion years to reach Earth.

NASA said it will gather data on more than 300 million galaxies, as well as more than 100 million stars in our own Milky Way, as part of the mission.

SphereX will work alongside NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, which is also exploring the origins of the universe. This image snapped by Hubble is the first significant look back to the era of the universe when early galaxies were forming. Picture: NASA media_cameraSphereX will work alongside NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, which is also exploring the origins of the universe. This image snapped by Hubble is the first significant look back to the era of the universe when early galaxies were forming. Picture: NASA

SphereX will measure the amount of visible and infra-red* light shining from galaxies.

This will allow scientists to detect the presence of water and organic* chemicals that are essential for life to grow.
THE BIG BANG

The majority of scientists around the world accept the same idea or model for how the universe began.

This is called the Big Bang theory.

This idea or model is that the Universe began around 14 billion years ago. Before this, the entire Universe was crammed into a tiny, hot bubble that was perhaps the size of a pin head or an apple (no one was there to measure it). There was a massive explosion and everything began to cool and expand, or move outwards.

The Big Bang theory has been the one widely accepted idea for at least 50 years.

Before this time, there were many other scientific theories for the beginning of the Universe.

People with religious beliefs around the world have a variety of responses to the Big Bang theory. Some accept the Big Bang theory. Some believe a combination of Big Bang theory and their religion’s explanation of the creation of the Universe. Others don’t accept the Big Bang theory and believe the Universe was created in another way that fits with the teachings of their religion.

GLOSSARY

  • probe: poke, explore
  • light years: the distance light travels in one year
  • unique: nothing else like it
  • astronomers: scientists who study space
  • unprecedented: has never happened before
  • galactic: relating to a galaxy, often to the Milky Way
  • fingerprints: in this case, it means evidence or traces of information
  • nanosecond: one thousand-millionth of a second
  • infra-red: a type of light just outside the red end of the light spectrum we can see
  • organic: to do with living things

EXTRA READING

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NASA spacecraft zooming towards Sun

NASA admits Planet Nine is real

QUICK QUIZ

  1. Which space agency is in charge of this mission?
  2. How much will the SphereX mission cost?
  3. How many galaxies will SphereX gather information on?
  4. What sorts of light are mentioned in the story?
  5. How long ago does Big Bang theory say the Universe began?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. The Big Bang theory
In your own words, explain what the Big Bang theory is. Draw a diagram (or two) to help you explain this theory.

While scientists have some evidence to support this theory, this probe will help them to find out more about this theory.

What questions do you have about how this probe will work? Write 5 questions about how the SphereX probe will work.

What questions do you have about the beginning of the universe? Write a list of at least 3 questions you would like this probe to help find out the answers to.

Time: allow 25 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science, Technologies – Design and Technologies 

2. Extension
Do you think it is important to find out how the universe began? Is this probe a good use of money?

Write your opinion in a ‘Letter to the editor’. Your letter should be no more than 150 words, it should outline what article you are referring to, when/where it was published and your opinion and your reasons to support your opinion.

An example introduction might be:

Dear Editor,

I read with interest about the SphereX probe that NASA plans to launch in 2023 as read on KidsNews (title, date of article). This probe is …

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity 
Curriculum Links: English, Science, Technologies – Design and Technologies

VCOP ACTIVITY

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HAVE YOUR SAY: Would you rather explore Earth or space?

No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking.

Extra Reading in space