Europe's Planck telescope set for retirement

Oct 22, 2013
An image released by the ESA on July 5, 2010 from the Planck telescope of its first all-sky image

The deep-space Planck telescope will retire this week after a successful four-year mission that revealed our Universe to be 80 million years older than previously thought, the European Space Agency said as it prepared Monday for switch-off.

Mission controllers fired Planck's thrusters to empty its fuel tanks—one of the final steps before the spent can be "parked" in a safe orbit around the Sun, far away from the Earth and Moon, where it will stay for hundreds of years after it goes out of action Wednesday.

"The final step will be the simple act of switching off the transmitters: we will witness the silencing of Planck and we will never receive a signal from her again," ESA spacecraft operations manager Steve Foley said in a statement.

"This is important because we cannot cause radio interference for any future mission."

The procedure to put Planck in a "permanently safe configuration" is similar to that employed for its sister satellite Herschel earlier this year.

Launched together in May 2009, Herschel was tasked with studying the origin of stars and galaxies while Planck was to look at radiation remnants from the "Big Bang" that created the Universe some 14 billion years ago.

Named after the 20th-century German physicist Max Planck, founder of quantum theory, the satellite was equipped with a massive telescope to measure the temperature of Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) emissions.

In March, ESA unveiled a 50-million pixel, all-sky snapshot of radiation left over from the Big Bang, compiled from data gathered by the orbiter.

"This is a giant leap in our understanding of the origins of the Universe," ESA director-general Jean-Jacques Dordain said as the map of the most ancient light in the cosmos was made public.

The data showed the Universe to be expanding at a slower rate than previously thought, which required adjusting its age to 13.82 billion years.

To take its measurements, the 4.2-metre (13.7-foot) by 4.2-metre Planck satellite's detectors had to be cooled to near absolute zero (minus 273.15 degrees Celsius/minus 459.67 degrees Fahrenheit).

It was capable of measuring temperature variations of a few millionths of a degree.

Planck was designed to carry out two full sky surveys over a period of 15 months, but instead observed the sky for more than 30 months and completed five surveys.

All science operations came to an end on October 3.

Switch-off will be marked by a small ceremony on Wednesday, with project scientist Jan Tauber sending the final command, ESA said.

"Our business is keeping missions alive and productive, so sending a shut-down command is very difficult," added Paolo Ferri, head of mission operations at ESA's space operations centre.

Explore further: Celebrating the legacy of ESA's Planck mission

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Celebrating the legacy of ESA's Planck mission

Oct 21, 2013

From the tiniest fraction of a second after the Big Bang to the evolution of stars and galaxies over 13.8 billion years, ESA's Planck space telescope has provided new insight into the history of our Universe. ...

Final curtain for Europe's deep-space telescope

Jun 17, 2013

The deep-space telescope Herschel took its final bow on Monday, climaxing a successful four-year mission to observe the birth of stars and galaxies, the European Space Agency (ESA) said.

Herschel telescope bows out after successful mission

Apr 29, 2013

Europe's deep-space Herschel telescope has given up the ghost—running out of coolant after a successful mission to observe the birth of stars and galaxies, the European Space Agency said Monday.

ESA: 2013 to be bumper year for space science

Jan 24, 2013

European probes this year will return a treasure trove of data from explorations into the Big Bang, water on Mars and climate change, European Space Agency (ESA) chief Jean-Jacques Dordain said on Thursday.

Coolest spacecraft ever in orbit around L2

Jul 03, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Last night, the detectors of Planck's High Frequency Instrument reached their amazingly low operational temperature of -273°C, making them the coldest known objects in space. The spacecraft ...

Recommended for you

Red moon at night; stargazer's delight

18 hours ago

Monday night's lunar eclipse proved just as delightful as expected to those able to view it. On the East Coast, cloudy skies may have gotten in the way, but at the National Science Foundation's National Optical ...

Meteorites yield clues to Martian early atmosphere

20 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Geologists who analyzed 40 meteorites that fell to Earth from Mars unlocked secrets of the Martian atmosphere hidden in the chemical signatures of these ancient rocks. Their study, published ...

Let's put a sailboat on Titan

23 hours ago

The large moons orbiting the gas giants in our solar system have been getting increasing attention in recent years. Titan, Saturn's largest moon, is the only natural satellite known to house a thick atmosphere. ...

Image: Rosetta's Philae lander snaps a selfie

Apr 16, 2014

Philae is awake… and taking pictures! This image, acquired last night with the lander's CIVA (Comet nucleus Infrared and Visible Analyzer) instrument, shows the left and right solar panels of ESA's well-traveled ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

maxb500_live_nl
5 / 5 (1) Oct 22, 2013
Incredible ESA mission this was. It has grown our understanding of the universe. Changed in a profound way our understanding of the age, the amount of matter, the amount of dark matter and amount of dark enery in the universe. And it could even change our core understanding of the universe itself by revealing these possible indication of another pre universe.

More news stories

Cosmologists weigh cosmic filaments and voids

(Phys.org) —Cosmologists have established that much of the stuff of the universe is made of dark matter, a mysterious, invisible substance that can't be directly detected but which exerts a gravitational ...

Meteorites yield clues to Martian early atmosphere

(Phys.org) —Geologists who analyzed 40 meteorites that fell to Earth from Mars unlocked secrets of the Martian atmosphere hidden in the chemical signatures of these ancient rocks. Their study, published ...

Let's put a sailboat on Titan

The large moons orbiting the gas giants in our solar system have been getting increasing attention in recent years. Titan, Saturn's largest moon, is the only natural satellite known to house a thick atmosphere. ...