Sunday, May 17, 2009

Herschel and Planck - two great names, two amazing spacecraft

Why take a risk when you can take two? That was the nailbiting scenario planned by the European Space Agency on Thursday when it launched two highly sensitive and extremely important astronomical probes in the same launch vehicle. Planck and Herschel are now on their way on the next stage of their journey to an orbital position known as L2. Herschel is the largest ever space telescope with a mirror twice the size of that of Hubble, but operating at far-infrared wavelengths which are particularly valuable in probing star formation processes. It will be able to detect early galaxy formation and evolution by looking at extremely distant targets. For those of you that are relatively new to astronomy, the probe is named after the distinguished historical astronomer, Sir William Herschel who was assisted by his wife Caroline.

Planck, named after the great physicist, Max Planck, will study the distant cosmic microwave background radiation. For both such tasks you require low temperatures and this is one of the advantages of their particular location. You can learn more from this video which was produced last year.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

April came and went...!

Apologies for the long gap and the absence of April's programme. Ended up being completely swamped in work and with family commitments. Tsk, tsk. Dashing the expectations of my loyal following. I will make amends and double up the number of podcasts to compensate. There's a lot going on astronomically speaking, so plenty to talk about. Next topic though is likely to be the Sun, since it causing some intrigue amongst astronomers at the moment.....