May 14, 2009 - Kourou Space Center.
Two of the most ambitious missions ever attempted to unveil the secrets of the darkest, coldest and oldest parts of the Universe got off to a successful start this afternoon with the dual launch of ESAs far infrared space telescope Herschel and cosmic background mapper Planck on an Ariane 5 rocket from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana.
Herschel, equipped with the largest mirror ever launched into space (twice the size of Hubble), will observe a mostly uncharted part of the electromagnetic spectrum so as to study the birth of stars and galaxies as well as dust clouds and planet-forming discs around stars. In addition, it will be the most effective tool ever devised to look for the presence of water in remote parts of the Universe.
Planck is designed to map tiny irregularities in fossil radiation left over from the very first light in the Universe, emitted shortly after the Big Bang. Planck will have enough sensitivity to reach the experimental limits of what can be observed, thus peering into the early Universe and studying its constituents such as the elusive dark matter and dark energy that continue to be a puzzle to the science community worldwide.
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