Biggest space telescope to study planet forming cosmic dust

February 2nd, 2008 - 5:29 pm ICT by admin  

London, Feb 2 (ANI): Astronomers would get to study icy cosmic dust, which is the raw building material for planets like our own, using the biggest space telescope ever built aboard the Herschel Space Observatory.

Launched into orbit by the European Space Agency during the summer of 2007, the Herschel Space Observatory has the largest mirror of any space telescope twice the size of the famous Hubble that will detect the ‘glow’ of spacedust at around -250C, rather than the light from stars.

According to the University of Nottingham, who is a leading partner in this new survey, this is the first space telescope to operate in the sub-millimeter part of the spectrum, between the far infrared and microwaves.

Much of this light 0.055 to 0.67 mm in wavelength cannot penetrate the atmosphere and so the only way to study it is from space.

Cosmic dust is not like Earthbound dust, but consists instead of tiny particles of carbon and silicates which are made in stars and supernovae and then ‘hang around’ in interstellar space for hundreds of millions of years.

The particles’ very small size about 800 times smaller than the width of a human hair makes them exceptionally good at capturing the light from stars, creating the dark patches seen in the Milky Way and other galaxies.

The survey will be a quantum leap in our understanding of dust in the local Universe, said Dr Loretta Dunne of The University of Nottingham’s School of Physics and Astronomy, who is leading the working group on dust in local galaxies.

Understanding cosmic dust has far reaching implications for astronomers because it plays an important role in helping hot gas to cool and collapse to form galaxies and stars, and is the raw building material for planets like our own.

According to Dr Dunne, because the Earth is really a giant ball of cosmic dust, discovering how dust is created, how long it survives and how much of it is out there, are important pieces of the puzzle of how the Universe came to look the way it does.

The observations from the space telescope aboard the Herschel Space Observatory will take 600 hours spread over the three-year lifetime of the mission. (ANI)

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