ESA to launch two large observatories to look deep into space and time

May 8th, 2009 - 2:47 pm ICT by ANI  

Paris, May 8 (ANI): The European Space Agency (ESA) is going to launch two of the most sophisticated astronomical spacecraft ever built - Herschel and Planck - to look deep into space and time.

The two large observatories will be launched by ESA this month towards deep space orbits around a special observation point beyond the Moon’s orbit.

From there, both spacecraft will begin a revolutionary observation campaign that will further our understanding of the history of the Universe.

Herschel is a large far-infrared space telescope designed to study some of the coldest objects in space, in a part of the electromagnetic spectrum still mostly unexplored.

With its huge light-collection capability and set of sophisticated detectors cooled to the vicinity of absolute zero by over 2000 liters of superfluid helium, Herschel will look at the faintest and farthest infrared sources and peer into the as-yet uncharted far infrared and submillimetric parts of the spectrum.

Herschel will be able to see through the opacity of cosmic dust and gas and observe structures and events far away that date back to the early Universe - such as the birth and evolution of early stars and galaxies - ten thousand million years ago, in an effort to determine exactly how it all started.

Closer by, within our galaxy, Herschel will also observe extremely cold objects, such as the clouds of dust and interstellar gases from which stars and planets are formed, and even the atmosphere around comets, planets and their moons in our own solar system.

Planck is a telescope that will map the fossil light of the Universe - light from the Big Bang - with unprecedented sensitivity and accuracy.

Featuring a 1.5 m telescope and instruments sensitive to microwave radiation, Planck will measure temperature variations in the very early Universe.

It will monitor the so- called Cosmic Microwave Background, the relic of the very first light ever emitted in space about 380 thousand years after the Big Bang, when the density and temperature of the young Universe had decreased enough to finally allow light to separate from matter and travel freely in space.

The two missions are among the most ambitious ever carried out by Europe and mark the crossing of new frontiers in the field of space-based astronomy.

The pair will be lofted in tandem by an Ariane 5 ECA launcher. Lift-off is now scheduled for May 14, from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana. (ANI)

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