Posts Tagged ‘astronomer’

Herschel/Planck New Launch Date Scheduled

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009 by Bellatrix

The largest mirror ever to be launched into space now has a set launch date.  The European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Observatory and Planck Satellite are set to launch into space May 6th. . Together these two pieces of equipment should be bringing in lots of new and exciting information about our own solar system and distant galaxies.

Sir Frederick William Herschel was a German born British astronomer from the 18th and 19th century. He was most famous for discovering the planet Uranus and discovering infrared radiation.  The Herschel Space Observatory will be the first to cover the full far infrared and sub-millimeter telescope.  The large mirror measures in at 3.5 meters; it’s a novel and advanced concept using 12 silicon carbide petals brazed together into a single piece. It is one of the major technological highlights of the mission.  Herschel will be investigating a large array of astronomical objects including: galaxy formation in the early universe and galaxy evolution, star formation and its interaction with the interstellar medium, chemical composition of atmospheres and surfaces of solar system bodies, and molecular chemistry across the universe.  Sounds like it has it work cut out.

The Planck Satellite will be going up with Herschel Observatory.  The satellite is named after the famous German physicist Max Planck who is considered the founder of quantum theory.  The satellite was designed to observe the anisotropies of the cosmic microwave background radiation, or CMB, over the entire sky using high angular resolution.  The mission is meant to improve upon the data collected from the well-known WMAP mission and will be used to test theories of the early universe and the origin of cosmic structure. 

Herschel and Planck will start their journey in space on board an Ariane 5 departing from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. Final preparations for the launch are now being made such as fueling the two satellites and filling Herschel’s cryostat (a vessel used to maintain cryogenic temperatures) with helium.  Once launched the two satellites will separate and be put into separate orbits around the second lagrangian point of the earth-sun system, a distance of about 1.5 million km’s from Earth.  Both satellites are part of the European Space Agency’s Horizons 2000 Scientific Programme, which consisted of about 15 satellite or telescope projects over the last 20 years including such other projects as Cluster, Huygens, XMM-Newton, and others.

The launch of these two satellites/observatories is exciting. They are new and advanced pieces of technology aimed at answering some large questions in astronomy today.  And are a fine example of astronomy goals and projects outside of the US.  So for now we just have to keep our fingers crossed and hold our breath for a successful launch and problem free start up. 

[Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon]

Carbon Dioxide Found on New World

Monday, December 15th, 2008 by Bellatrix

It’s no new thing to find a planet these days since we’ve detected hundreds of extrasolar planets by now. Now being able to determine the chemicals present on other planets, now that’s pretty new and exciting. Now for the first time carbon dioxide has been detected on a planet outside of our solar system.

The planet is called HD 189733b and lies about 63 light years from us. It’s a large planet, about the size of Jupiter with a very short rotation period of only 2.2 days. Astronomers have been observing the planet for a while now using both the Hubble Space Telescope and Spitzer Infrared Space Telescope. Last year they discovered water vapor and then some time later methane. But this is the first time an organic compound such as this has been found on another world. Now this planet is too hot to support life, but chemicals like this one are by products of life processes thus when we are able to start detecting earth sized planets this may be an indirect way of discovering other life forms.

It is exciting not just knowing that these other planets are there but we’re actually able to say something about them. Using the Hubble Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS) to study the infrared light emitted by the planet. Gases in the planet’s atmosphere absorb certain wavelengths of light from the planet’s hot glowing interior. The astronomers identified not only carbon dioxide, but also carbon monoxide. The molecules leave their own unique spectral fingerprint on the radiation from the planet that reaches Earth. This is the first time a near-infrared emission spectrum has been obtained for an exoplanet. With these detection techniques we can describe the conditions, chemistry, and atmospheric composition of other planets.

This planet was a good candidate for this type of study because of the orientation of the planet to Earth’s orbit. The planet’s orbit is facing us edge on, so when it moves around its star and the star eclipses it. So astronomers are bale to subtract out the light that is due only to the star and thus are left with the spectrum coming from the planet.

Once the new James Webb Space Telescope launches things will get even more exciting. Astronomers will be able to use this technique but with the much greater sensitivity of the new telescope hopefully it will be on terrestrial, or earth like planets. Until then astronomers will be using this technique to look at other exoplanets to see what other new things they can discover.

[Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon]

Our Undiscovered Universe Blog is proudly powered by WordPress
Entries (RSS) and Comments (RSS).