Largest ever telescope launched from French Guiana

May 15th, 2009 - 12:46 am ICT by IANS  

Paris, May 14 (DPA) Riding an Ariane 5 rocket, the world’s largest telescope was launched Thursday from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana on a mission to investigate the origins of the universe.
The main objective of the Herschel telescope, which was developed by the European Space Agency (ESA) at a cost of 1.1 billion euros ($1.49 billion), will be to study the relatively cool objects in the universe in order to determine how stars and galaxies formed.

Physicist Albrecht Poglitsch, of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, who worked on the development of Herschel’s instruments, told DPA, “We want to find out how the stars and the galaxies came into being in the universe.”

He said that stars are comprised of gas and dust, a mix that makes it impossible to see into the star itself with light.

“Herschel`s strength is that it enables us to look into the gas-dust clouds,” Poglitsch said.

The primary mirror of the Herschel telescope is 3.5 meters in diameter, more than four times larger than those of previous infrared space telescopes and almost one and a half times larger than that of the Hubble space telescope.

Because of its enormous range, Herschel will tap into previously unexplored wavelengths and examine phenomena that had been out of reach for other observatories.

The telescope will begin to carry out its three-and-a-half-year mission in about a month. “There will also be photographs, but they will be rather unusual,” Poglitsch said.

The telescope will be investigating a previously largely unexplored portion of the universe, he noted. “It looks radically different because all the action that takes place there is embedded in gas and dust,” he said.

The Herschel telescope was accompanied by the Planck microwave observatory. Planck`s mission, which is scheduled to end in 15 months, will be to study the cosmic microwave background, the residue radiation from the Big Bang that theoretically created the universe.

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