After the early sneak preview from the PACS instrument on board the recently launched Herschel infrared space telescope, more images have now been released from its other instruments, SPIRE and HIFI. The above image shows images taken with the IR imager and spectrometer SPIRE of nearby galaxy M74 at 250 micron. The amount of detail visible in the images is really great, particularly as all the image reconstruction software hasn’t even been optimised yet. We may be very used to seeing spectacularly detailed images from Hubble, but achieving these resolutions at Herschel’s far-infrared wavelengths is very new. [Read more...]
2009 is an exciting year for the European space community, with some high-profile launches, an astronaut recruitment programme, new launch vehicles, and, let’s not forget, a Belgian becoming the first ever European commander of the International Space Station.
Most anticipated for astronomers worldwide, however, is the launch of two major astronomy missions, Herschel and Planck. These two space telescopes are both designed to operate at the L2 Lagrangian point – a gravitationally stable point 1.5M km from Earth – and will be launched together on board an Ariane 5 on 16 April, from Korou.
A promiment scientist at the University of Texas in Austin has pulled out of a major telescope project, SOFIA, because of his concerns about the environmental impact of the mission. Prof. John Lacy felt he couldn’t support a project that excessivly harms the environment. SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, is a 2.5 m telescope that will fly high above the Earth’s surface on board a modified Boeing 747SP plane. Due for first (f)light in 2010, SOFIA will be able to detect radiation from mid-infrared to submillimetre wavelengths. Light at these energies is abosorbed by water molecules in the atmosphere, and by flying the telescope on a plane above much of the absorbing gas scientists can avoid those losses without having to launch a satellite into space, which is costly and difficult to upgrade or fix. The SOFIA plane is expected to fly four times a week, for up to 12 hours a time – so it’s easy to understand Lacy’s concerns.
The Texas media found out about Lacy’s withdrawal from the US-German project and ran a story about it – read it here.