We're not entirely sure what's out there beyond our solar system, but NASA is betting that it's going to be full of zebras or something, and they want to spend a special telescope out there to take a look around.
Ohhh, you mean the fact that the telescope is called "ZEBRA" doesn't mean it's designed to look for actual zebras? Well gee, thanks for getting my hopes up about extraterrestrial equids, NASA. What "ZEBRA" apparently stands for is "Zodiacal dust, Extragalactic Background and Reionization Apparatus," which is a fancy and entirely deceptive name for an infrared space telescope.
We already have telescopes that are sensitive into the infrared, and we've already sent them up into space to get them out of the messy soup of atmosphere and light pollution that we've got going on down here. Unfortunately, they still have to deal with the glow from the sun (which is much too close), and a big pile of dust out in the asteroid belt, which makes it difficult to see some of the extra-dark, extra-old stuff out in the early universe. Specifically, what ZEBRA will be peeking at is the "extragalactic background light," which is what you'd see if you looked at all of the combined light from all sources in the universe all at once. We should get a clear view of this at about five times farther out from the sun than Earth is, somewhere near Jupiter.
ZEBRA won't be a very big telescope: it'll have a six-inch primary high-resolution imager, along with a wide-field mapper that's a little over an inch in size. Even at these small sizes, the sky is so much darker out beyond the asteroid belt that ZEBRA should still get a view of the extragalactic background light that's a hundred times better than we've ever seen. And since ZEBRA isn't the size of, you know, a zebra or anything, it can just hitch a ride on some other mission that's heading in the same general direction.
NASA hasn't officially selected the ZEBRA mission yet, but if they do, it has a shot at tagging along with a European mission to Jupiter's moons sometime in the early 2020s.
Via Universe Today