Sunday, May 17, 2009

Some Tech Before the Yarn Resumes

Last Thursday there was a rocket launch in South America, close to the northern coast of the continent. On the planet the location is 5.239668 North, 52.768471 West. Its local name is Kourou, and the rocket launch last Thursday took two astronomical instruments into orbit.

Planck is a telescope that will map the fossil light of the Universe - light from the Big Bang – with more sensitivity and accuracy than any other instrument that we have used before. 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. The two instruments will not be satellites of the Earth: they will occupy the L2 Lagrangian point (there are 5 stable points in any orbit, and Earth occupies one, of course - L1).

The primary mirror of the Herschel telescope is 1 1/2 times the size of the Hubble Space Telescope's main reflector. The replacement for Hubble, the James Webb Space Telescope, should get to one of these Lagrange points in around 2013. Hubble should last unil then.

And the people who launched Herschel and Planck? The European Space Agency, of course.

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