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Herschel and Planck ready to go! May 13, 2009

Posted by Sarah in science, space.
Tags: , , , ,


Continuing the astro-goodness of the week, Thursday will see the launch of two major European-led astronomy space missions from ESA‘s space port in French Guiana. Hitching a ride on the same Ariane 5 rocket, space telescopes Herschel and Planck will be launched towards the L2 point on 14 May.

With its 3.5-m primary mirror, Herschel will be the largest telescope to be launched into space yet. Sensitive to long infrared wavelengths, Herschel will be able to detect some of the coolest object in the Universe, such as newly forming stars and galaxies, that are too cold to emit any visible light. Lots of my close colleagues have spent many years working on Herschel, and I’m very excited about it getting launched (and not a little bit jealous of their invites to witness the launch live in Kourou!). BBC had a ncie story on Herschel recently, here.

Planck will study the cosmic microwave background, the remnant radiation from the Big Bang, to unprecedented temperature resolution. The cosmic miscrowave background is known to permeate the Universe at a temperature of 2.7 K, with localised variations measuring less than a thousandth of a percent! These teeny fluctuations in temperature are thought to be the places where the first stars and galaxies formed, and studying them can tell us a lot about the way matter in the Universe was formed. Planck will be able to resolve temperature fluctuations of a few millionths of a degree, which will allow us to see the fluctuations in greater detail than ever before. Scientifi American ran a good story on Planck science at the end of last year.

Here’s how to experience the launch! ESA have a dedicated webpage for everything related to the Herschel/Planck launch, with links to the live launch webcast. A Flickr photostream has tons of great pictures of the Ariane 5 rocket with its payload being rolled to the launch platform this afternoon. The launch is planned for 15:12 CEST (Central European Summer Time) on 14 May, with ESA’s broadcast lasting from 14:40 to 15:52.

Good old twitter is of course an excellent place to get updates too. The hashtag to follow is #hplaunch, and the missions’ own twitter feeds are @ESAHerschel, @Planck, @herschelplanck. Dutch science writer Govert Schilling is in Kourou and will report the launch live, as will astronomers Chris Lintott (via twitter) and Andrew Jaffe (on twitter, his blog and the Planck Mission blog). Further twitterers to follow are Stuart, Daniel and Phil‘s BANews feed.

And me? I’ll be watching on a big screen from work with friends and colleagues, and yes, twittering.

Image credit: ESA/S. Corvaja


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