The Future of Viewing the Universe

During the early 1970's, NASA and ESA teams began to brainstorm a telescope that could see farther and clearer than any other telescope previously built.
credit: NASA

 In 1990, their ideas became reality, and thus the birth of the Hubble Space Telescope. Hubble, since it's commission, has far surpassed any preconceptions of the power it held. Hubble has seen farther back in time and space than any land based telescope could fathom. Scientists are now looking into the following projects to replace Hubble.

credit: MIT Explorers Program
Some may argue that the discovery of habitable planets with life within reach of Earth will be the single greatest discovery in all of history. Astronomers today are trying to make this discovery. The Transiting Exoplanet Survey (TESS) conducted by an array of wide field telescopes will attempt to create an image 400x deeper, and sharper than the current Kepler observations. The TESS array will search for planets that cross their stars creating a shadow or diminishing of light. Current ground based telescopes have used this method to find only large gaseous planets, similar to Saturn and Jupiter. NASA announced the funding of this project through the Explorers Program, led by MIT.

credit: NASA
Hubble will be getting a replacement soon - the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). The JWST is charged with analyzing the oldest and most distant light in the Universe, and researching the formation of galaxies just after the Big Bang in infrared light. As the Universe expands, cosmic objects move away from us and move towards the red light spectrum. This is why infrared telescopes are ideal for observing ancient structures. The JWST will have a 6.5 meter mirror, folded beside it like an origami when not in use. The telescope has an estimated lifespan of 5 years, and some scientists see this as detrimental. However, the data collected by Webb will keep scientists busy long after it's death.

These are all projects anticipated for the near future. Projects destined beyond our life, are currently in planning stages. Some ideas include 21 mile wide foldable "screens", millions of minuscule shards of glass magnetically controlled to form an array of microscopes, and large observatories on the dark side of the moon.