Argonne researchers probe origins of universe in NASA Spectral Sky Map Mission

NASA selects SPHEREx for launch in 2023.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has selected SPHERExas its next Medium-Class Explorer Mission, for launch in 2023. SPHEREx, the Spectro-Photometer for the History of the Universe, Epoch of Reionization, and Ices Explorer, is an all-sky spectroscopic mapping mission designed to further the science goals of NASA‘s Astrophysics Division by probing the origin and destiny of our Universe, evaluating whether planets around other stars could harbor life, and exploring the origin and evolution of galaxies. SPHEREx was selected to be a mission within NASA‘s Explorers Program, which provides flight opportunities for world-class scientific investigations from space.

The SPHEREx team is led by James Bock at Caltech and managed by researchers at NASA‘s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The team comprises an international collaboration of universities, industry and institutes, including scientists from the Computational Science and High Energy Physics divisions at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory.

SPHEREx is a marvelous mission, and we are sure to learn a lot from it. As the first all-sky spectral survey, it will make a major impact in cosmology… Very exciting times ahead!” — Salman Habib, Division Director, Computational Science Division and Interim Deputy Director, High Energy Physics Division

Significant Argonne contributions will include the development of cosmological simulations for SPHEREx galaxies, identification of SPHEREx sources and the computation of their redshifts, determination of the effect of different types of non-Gaussianity on the large-scale structure of the Universe, detection of cluster of galaxies and determination of their properties, and estimation of the abundance of high-redshift quasars.

Argonne contributors include

  • Lindsey Bleem, Assistant Physicist, High Energy Physics Division: galaxy clusters
  • Jonas Chaves-Montero, Postdoctoral Appointee, High Energy Physics Division: quasars
  • Salman Habib, Division Director, Computational Science Division and Interim Deputy Director, High Energy Physics Division: galaxy catalog simulations, nongaussianity
  • Katrin Heitmann, Physicist and Computational Scientist, Physical Sciences and Engineering Directorate: galaxy catalog simulations

In its two-year mapping mission, SPHEREx will perform a near-infrared spectral survey, scanning and mapping spectra at ultra-high sensitivity, including two deep surveys at the North and South poles. These surveys will unmask the large-scale structure of the Universe (galaxy clusters and voids) by measuring the light wave frequencies of nearly 500 million galaxies with a precision of 10 percent and the light wave frequencies of another 16 million galaxies with 0.3 percent precision.

The mission offers benefits beyond probing the origin of our Universe: it will amass a rich legacy archive for the astronomy community, with hundreds of millions of stars and galaxies to identify targets for more detailed studies, and it will set the stage for future missions.

According to Argonne’s Salman Habib, ?As the first all-sky spectral survey, SPHEREx will make a major impact in cosmology — not only in what it will discover, but in making the data from other instruments, such as Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), more meaningful. In addition, there is an excellent connection with exascale computing and making predictions for SPHEREx. Very exciting times ahead!”

Habib’s colleagues share his enthusiasm. Bleem and Chaves-Montero are excited about the selection of SPHEREx and eager for the work to begin. Bleem expects that ?the rich dataset from this mission will allow us to answer a wide range of questions concerning the origins and evolution of our Universe. SPHEREx will also have great synergy with upcoming DOE surveys including Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI) and LSST.” Chaves-Montero predicts that the project ?will allow us to understand the origin of the large-scale structure of the cosmos by detecting the most energetic objects in the Universe: black holes with a few billion times the mass of the Sun.”


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