Stories tagged European Space Agency


Planck telescope map of the universe
Planck telescope map of the universeCourtesy ESA HFI and LFI consortia
A new map created from data gathered by the Planck Space Telescope shows new aspects of our universe not before seen. The telescope’s sensors captured in long wavelengths of light invisible to the human eye that show gigantic plumes of dust and matter swirling above and below the plane of our Milky Way galaxy.

"What you see is the structure of our galaxy in gas and dust, which tells us an awful lot about what is going on in the neighborhood of the Sun; and it tells us a lot about the way galaxies form when we compare this to other galaxies."-- Professor Andrew Jaffe, Planck Space Telescope team member

The Planck research team hopes to answer several questions concerning the origins and structures of the universe. It will concentrate on the cosmic microwave background, the remnant radiation from the Big Bang that permeates the entire universe. It will also search out the secrets of other phenomenon such as gravitational waves, and dark energy and matter. A second version of the map is in the process of being created and there are plans for two additional ones.

In May of 2009, the European Space Agency (ESA) launched the Planck Space Telescope and the Herschel telescope together into space. Both telescopes function from an orbital position called the second Lagrange point located some one million miles away from the dark side of the Earth, and both in the infrared light range. Over the last six months the Planck telescope has been busy scanning and mapping the full sky searching out answers to how galaxy form and the very origins of the universe. The scope’s sensitive instruments were built to function in the extreme conditions of space, some at temperatures just 1/10th of a degree above absolute zero! Since the observatory is viewing the universe in long wavelengths of light it’s not really seeing stars themselves but rather the materials – dust and gas – from which stars are formed.

But if you’re like me, being restricted to a single wavelength just doesn’t do it, so for views of the universe in other wavelengths I suggest you visit, a nifty website that allows you to view the universe in all sorts of wavelengths on the electromagnetic spectrum.

Videos about the Planck and Herschel projects at
BBC story
USA Today story

VY Canis Majoris v. our Sun: No contest.
VY Canis Majoris v. our Sun: No contest.Courtesy Public domain
If you’re like me, you’re fretting about what to buy your significant other this coming holiday season. Let it go. We have bigger problems. There’s a humongous star in the constellation Canis Major that’s in its final death throes and could go supernova at any time. VY Canis Majoris, as it is referenced, is the largest star known to science, and is so huge, if it were placed in the center of our Solar System, it would encompass all the space between our Sun and the orbit of the planet Saturn (see diagram). But don’t worry, the unstable red hypergiant is nearly 5000 light-years away, and is being monitored closely (in far-infrared and submillimeter portions of the light spectrum) by the European Space Agency's new space telescope Herschel. Read more here about what's actually going on.

More about the Herschel space observatory

Earth, Moon and Mars: Size to scale, distance... not so much.
Earth, Moon and Mars: Size to scale, distance... not so much.Courtesy Bluedharma
Imagine being asked to volunteer to live and interact with only five people for 520 days in very cramped quarters. You would only be able to speak with your friends and family via voice communication with a 20-minute delay. Well, the European Space Agency (ESA) made such a request to the general European public, and has finally selected the two candidates to accompany four Russian candidates from the Russian Institute for Biomedical Problems to simulate the conditions of a manned mission to Mars.