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Herschel Launch

An Ariane 5 rocket launched two scientific space observatories, Herschel and Planck, at 13:12 GMT this morning that will help scientists better understand the formation of the universe.

The launch took the better part of 30 minutes from ignition to spin-up and separation of the Planck and Herschel.

The launch:

[Herschel and Planck Launch – YouTube]

My physicist friend Richard Querel works with the group that built SPIRE, an infrared imaging camera and low-resolution spectrometer that was aboard the Herschel. He tells me the instruments will be sensitive down to picojoules, which is the equivalent to the energy emitted by one living cell, or to a dim star, very far away.

It’ll take 3 months for them to get to their orbit, but they’ll likely start collecting science validation data immediately.

Herschel has the largest mirror of any space telescope now in orbit. Its 3.5 metre diameter primary mirror is one-and-a-half-times the size of the Hubble Telescope’s main reflector.

From the Herschel Space Observatory entry on Wikipedia:

The mission, formerly titled the Far Infrared and Sub-millimetre Telescope (FIRST), will be the first space observatory to cover the full far infrared and submillimetre waveband. At 3.5 meters wide, its telescope will incorporate the largest mirror ever deployed in space. The light will be focused onto three instruments with detectors kept at temperatures below 2 K. The instruments will be cooled with liquid helium, boiling away in a near vacuum at a temperature of approximately 1.4 K. The 2,000 litres of helium on board the satellite will limit its operational lifetime. The satellite is expected to be operational for at least 3 years.


When Black Holes Collide

Nasa has created, what they call, their best simulation yet of what happens when black holes collide.

Black hole collision simulation image

It’s worth a look, even if it turns out that a simulated black hole collision isn’t half good as the Klingon moon explosion in Star Trek VI.

Black hole collision simulation (7.45MB MPG)


Stardust Mission a Success

A couple of years ago I mentioned NASA’s Stardust mission and their special dust collecting material, aerogel. Aerogel is a silicon-based solid with a porous, sponge-like structure in which 99.8 percent of the volume is empty space.

Well the Stardust mission has returned and as the New York Times explains, the Stardust mission has exceeded expectations.


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Aerogel Photos

Aerogel will be used on the STARDUST spacecraft to capture comet particles from Comet Wild 2. The pics are amazing. They look fake, but they come from the NASA web site.

To collect particles without damaging them, Stardust uses an extraordinary substance called aerogel. This is a silicon-based solid with a porous, sponge-like structure in which 99.8 percent of the volume is empty space. By comparison, aerogel is 1,000 times less dense than glass, which is another silicon-based solid. When a particle hits the aerogel, it buries itself in the material, creating a carrot-shaped track up to 200 times its own length. This slows it down and brings the sample to a relatively gradual stop. Since aerogel is mostly transparent – with a distinctive smoky blue cast – scientists will use these tracks to find the tiny particles.