by Staff Writers for Physics World
London, UK (SPX) Jan 04, 2013
With its 2160 liters of liquid helium about to run out, the Herschel Space Observatory will, by the end of March, become just another piece of space junk.
In January's Physics World, Steve Eales, a University of Cardiff astronomer who leads one of the telescope's largest surveys, explains how this space facility has advanced our understanding of star and galaxy formation.
Submillimeter wavelength astronomy -- the kind of astronomy that the European Space Agency's Herschel Space Observatory has been undertaking since blast off in May 2009 -- lets us observe fundamental astronomical events, reaching parts of the universe that optical light cannot.
As Eales writes, "In peering into the big clouds of gas and dust that are the 'maternity wards' of stars and then detecting the submillimeter light emitted from the dust around the newly formed stars, Herschel is doing much to study star formation, which is one of astronomy's 'big questions'."
Held in place by the gravitational forces between the Earth and the Sun, at some 1.6 million kilometers from us, Herschel has been able to detect faint submillimeter radiation from 10 billion years back in time.
Eales remarks on the pace at which our understanding of the universe is advancing thanks to the observatory, which was named after the German-born astronomer William Herschel, who discovered infrared radiation and the planet Uranus, with help from his sister Caroline.
Recalling whole nights spent looking for one new galaxy with its submillimeter predecessor -- the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii -- Eales describes how he recently turned up 7000 new galaxies in barely 16 hours using Herschel data.
The 2160 liters of helium that Herschel blasted off with has kept the observatory cold enough to ensure that the heat given off by its own machinery doesn't confuse its readings.
This March, however, the helium will run out and Herschel will be defunct. But, as Eales writes, "the treasure trove of Herschel data will be picked through by astronomers for years to come".
Source: Physics World
Space Telescope News and Technology at Skynightly.com
|The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2014 - Space Media Network. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA Portal Reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement,agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement