NASA will send a cubesat called MANTIS to scan space in ultraviolet light alongside the James Webb telescope .
The James Webb Space Telescope will have a companion to be launched by NASA in 2026: a small satellite.
The Monitoring Nearby Star Activity with Ultraviolet Imaging and Spectroscopy ( MANTIS ) cubesat will scan the skies in ultraviolet light, complementing Webb’s scans.
This small satellite is being designed and built by researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder. The amount is 8.5 million dollars.
From full range ultraviolet light, including the much more energetic extreme form (EUV), the spacecraft will fill in the gaps that cannot be seen by James Webb .
“We proposed MANTIS as a kind of ultraviolet companion that will follow James Webb and look wherever it is looking, completing this important piece of context about the stellar environments in which these planets live,” said Kevin France, associate professor with the team.
The name is in honor of the mantis shrimp, a colorful crustacean with large, prominent eyes, which also observes its environment in ultraviolet frequencies.
A unique monitoring
The last time NASA looked in extreme ultraviolet light was with the Extreme Ultraviolet Explorer, which operated from 1992 to 2001.
Planets often release large amounts of EUV as they are attacked by radiation from their host star, a sign that they may be losing their atmosphere.
Indeed, many stars will be seen for the first time in the extreme ultraviolet , giving us a new vision of the worlds that could possibly harbor life.
“When those emissions reach the top of a planet’s atmosphere, it will expand and some of it can escape into space,” said David Wilson, who leads the mission’s science team. “If you have a high EUV flux, that planet’s atmosphere can erode rapidly.”
“We want to understand how this flux of ultraviolet light from stars affects planets’ atmospheres and even their habitability,” says lead researcher Briana Indahl.