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Planck sees tapestry of cold dust

Giant filaments of cold dust stretching through our Galaxy are revealed in a new image from ESA’s Planck satellite. Analysing these structures could help to determine the forces that shape our Galaxy and trigger star formation.

Planck is principally designed to study the biggest mysteries of cosmology. How did the Universe form? How did the galaxies form? This new image extends the range of its investigations into the cold dust structures of our own Galaxy.

The image shows the filamentary structure of dust in the solar neighbourhood – within about 500 light-years of the Sun. The local filaments are connected to the Milky Way, which is the pink horizontal feature near the bottom of the image. Here, the emission is coming from much further away, across the disc of our Galaxy. The image has been colour coded to discern different temperatures of dust. White-pink tones show dust of a few tens of degrees above absolute zero, whereas the deeper colours are dust at around –261°C, only about 12 degrees above absolute zero. The warmer dust is concentrated into the plane of the Galaxy whereas the dust suspended above and below is cooler.

“What makes these structures have these [...]

Herschel and Planck launch timeline

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Copyright ESA

There’s a buzz in the Main Control Room as the launch of Herschel and Planck gets closer. The two satellites are scheduled to launch together at 15:12 CEST, 14 May, on an Ariane 5 from ESA’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. Several critical events are planned leading up to and after launch (Web updated 13 May 09:40 CEST).

After launch, Herschel and Planck will be headed to L2, the second Lagrange point of the Sun-Earth system, where they will operate from independent orbits.

L2 is a local gravitational point that is fixed in the Earth-Sun system and is situated on Earth’s night-side. It is an excellent location for both Herschel and Planck: it allows them to shield their sensitive instruments from solar radiation which may otherwise disturb observations and offers good sky visibility. If they were placed in orbit around Earth, heat from our planet, the Moon and the Sun would interfere with the instruments and telescopes, reducing sensitivity.

Both satellites have now been integrated with the launcher; the combination measures approximately 11 m in height and 4.5 m in width, with a weight of about 5.7 tonnes.

The critical milestones before launch include the launch readiness review, [...]

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

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Copyright ESA

ESA PR 08-2009. Two of the most sophisticated astronomical spacecraft ever built – Herschel and Planck – 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. Planck is a telescope that will map the fossil light of the Universe – light from the Big Bang – with unprecedented sensitivity and accuracy. 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 15:12 CEST (13:12 GMT) on Thursday 14 May, from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana. Herschel and Planck will separate shortly after launch and head independently towards the L2 Lagrangian point of the Sun-Earth system, a gravitational stability point suspended in space some 1.5 million [...]

Herschel and Planck launch update

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Copyright ESA

The verification of operations procedures for Herschel and Planck at ESA’s European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) has now positively concluded. However, during final checks on the spacecraft, concerns have arisen and a short delay is proposed in order to allow ESA and Arianespace to carry out a final and independent check of the safety margins. Therefore, the final decision on the date of the Herschel and Planck launch will be postponed by a few days.

The Herschel telescope mirror, the largest ever to be launched in space, is a novel and advanced concept using 12 silicon carbide petals brazed together into a single piece; it is one of the major technological highlights of the mission. The complexity of the structure and its uniqueness means great care must be taken to ensure that stresses exerted on it during launch are well understood.

Over the next few days, a panel of independent experts led by the ESA Inspector General and Arianespace will carry out a final cross-check of the documentation to demonstrate that the required safety margins for the telescope are met.

The new launch date will be defined shortly.

The Herschel and Planck satellites, currently at Europe’s Spaceport [...]