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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.


Thirty Meter Telescope

Last night I went to hear Dr. Luc Simard speak about the new Thirty Meter Telescope that is in development. This telescope will have a 30-metre diameter primary mirror and will provide nine times the collecting area of today’s largest optical telescopes. It will enable scientists to observe objects nine-times fainter than existing 10 metre telescopes in an equal amount of time.

The Thirty Meter Telescope will give astronomers the clearest and deepest picture of the Universe ever. This telescope will push the frontier of technology, fully integrating the latest innovations in precision control, segmented mirror design, and adaptive optics to correct for the blurring effects of Earth’s atmosphere. When combined with the unprecedented light-collecting area of the primary mirror, TMT will be the most capable and sophisticated telescope ever constructed.

Relative to the Hubble Space Telescope, TMT will have 156 times the collecting area and more than a factor of 10 better spatial resolution at near-infrared and longer wavelengths.

The University of Lethbridge is contributing to the project, and my friend, Richard Querel, does some pretty interesting research as part of the team headed by Dr. David Naylor. They have developed a very powerful laser device which calculates atmospheric conditions and can be used to calibrate the telescope to compensate for things like humidity and smog.

Thirty Meter Telescope

See a video fly through of the proposed TMT facility which will be built in either Chile or Hawaii and should be operational by 2018.