Herschel and Planck on their way to unlock secrets of the UniverseMay 15th, 2009 - 2:54 pm ICT by ANI
Washington, May 15 (ANI): The Herschel and Planck spacecraft have successfully blasted into space on May 14 from the Guiana Space Centre in French Guiana, in a mission to unlock the secrets of the Universe.
The European Space Agency (ESA) missions, with significant participation from NASA, hitched a ride together on an Ariane 5 rocket, but now have different journeys before them.
Herschel will explore, with unprecedented clarity, the earliest stages of star and galaxy birth in the universe; it will help answer the question of how our Sun and Milky Way galaxy came to be.
Planck will look back to almost the beginning of time itself, gathering new details to help explain how our universe came to be.
“These two missions have spent a lot of time together,” said Ulf Israelsson, NASA project manager for both Herschel and Planck at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.
“But now they are going their separate ways, each ready to do what it does best,” he added.
The spacecraft are traveling on separate trajectories to a point in the Earth-Sun system called the second Lagrangian point, four times farther away than the moon’s orbit, or an average distance of 1.5 million kilometers from Earth.
They will spend the rest of their missions independently orbiting this point - located on the other side of Earth from the Sun - as they make their way around the Sun every year.
Herschel will start preparing for science operations while en route toward its operational orbit, which will be reached in about two months.
Four months later, the science mission will begin and is expected to last more than three-and-a-half years.
Planck will reach a similar orbit in roughly two months, with science observations beginning one month later.
The mission’s science operations are scheduled to last a minimum of 15 months, with the possibility of an extension.
Herschel will make the most detailed measurements yet of the cold and dark wombs where the embryos of stars and galaxies have just begun to grow.
It will also be able to detect key elements and molecules involved in a star’s life, tracing their evolution from atoms to potentially life-forming materials.
Planck will see light that has traveled billions of years from the newborn universe to reach us.
This light, called the cosmic microwave background, contains information about the Big Bang that created space and time itself.
According to Charles Lawrence, the NASA Planck project scientist at JPL, “Our previous images of the baby universe were like fuzzy snapshots. Now, we’ll have the cleanest, deepest and sharpest images ever made of the early universe.” (ANI)
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