These computer simulations of a spiral galaxy show that the proposed High Definition Space Telescope would provide sharper images of distant objects than the existing Hubble telescope (left).

These computer simulations of a spiral galaxy show that the proposed High Definition Space Telescope would provide sharper images of distant objects than the existing Hubble telescope (left).

D. Ceverino, C. Moody, G. Snyder, and Z. Levay (STScI)

Astronomers offer vision of the next giant space telescope

Astronomers today laid out their case for building a new super-Hubble, a giant space telescope covering optical and ultraviolet wavelengths. The so-called High Definition Space Telescope would complement the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which is due for launch in 2018 and will observe the universe at infrared wavelengths. A report published today by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy in Washington, D.C., lays out the rationale for another orbiting observatory. It will have a mirror as big as 12 meters across, to both look for habitable planets around other stars and peer deep into the early aeons of the universe.

Reconciling those two roles was a tricky process, and astronomers may have a hard time convincing funders in Congress after the lengthy delays and huge cost increases experienced by JWST. But with this new report astronomers are laying the groundwork for the next decadal survey of astronomy and astrophysics, a priority-setting process that usually gives funders an idea of where scientists would like money to flow.