ESA launches Herschel Space Observatory and Planck Satellite

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Friday, May 15, 2009

The Herschel Space Observatory and Planck Satellite were both launched Thursday by an Ariane 5ECA rocket at around 1pm (UTC) by the European Space Agency (ESA) from the Guiana Space Centre. The two telescopes valued at 1.9 billion (£1.7bn) were launched from Kourou, French Guiana, a department of France in South America.

Planck Satellite
(Image missing from commons: image; log)

"The technology onboard these satellites is unique, and the science these satellites will do is fantastic," said Jean-Jacques Dordain director-general at the ESA, "This is the result of many years' hard work by thousands of scientists and engineers across Europe."

Herschel was released 26 minutes after launch to continue on its trajectory. Two minutes later, the Planck observatory separated. The Planck telescope is a survey telescope using Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) measurements of the microwave portion of the electromagnetic spectrum.

"It [Planck] will allow us to pin down all the basic characteristics of the Universe with very high accuracy - its age, its contents, how it evolved, its geometry, etc." said Dr Jan Tauber, project scientist at ESA.

File photo of Ariane (rocket) launched from the Guiana Space Centre on 10 August 1992.

The larger space telescope is named after William Herschel who discovered the planet Uranus in 1781. The Herschel telescope will use infrared radiation and its main reflector mirror at a diameter of 3.5 meter (11.5 ft) is one-and-a-half-times larger than that on the Hubble Telescope.

The Heterodyne Instrument for the Far Infrared (HIFI) will also be able to detect carbon, water and oxygen in star-forming areas of space and examine the chemical composition of comets. The Photodetector Array Camera (PACS) and Spectrometer and the Spectral and Photometric Imaging Receiver (SPIRE) will correlate the images. The Herschel will also be equipped with heat detecting instrumentation. The Herschel space telescope will be operational for three to five years.

"These space missions are outstanding feats of engineering. Herschel is the largest telescope we have ever put into space and the instruments on Planck will operate at just a tenth of a degree above absolute zero," said Lord Drayson, the United Kingdom's science minister, "This is really cool science happening at mind-blowingly low temperatures, helping to answer some of the basic questions about the history of the universe."

"Herschel is going to help us understand much, much better how stars form right now and how they have been forming throughout billions of years of cosmic history" said Göran Pilbratt, Herschel's project scientist at ESA, "We're going to see the [star] embryos, the ones that are not born yet. We're going to see right into the wombs where stars are born."


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Wikipedia Learn more about Herschel Space Observatory and Planck Satellite on Wikipedia.
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