Lunar and Planetary Institute
Lunar and Planetary Institute

 

 

Herschel Completes Its "Cool" Journey in Space

May 2, 2013
Source: NASA
/JPL

This view of the Orion nebula, taken by the Herschel and Spitzer space telescopes, highlights fledgling stars hidden in the gas and dust clouds. Credit:  NASA/ESA/JPL-Caltech/IRAM.The Herschel observatory, a European space telescope for which NASA helped build instruments and process data, has stopped making observations after running out of liquid coolant as expected.

The European Space Agency mission, launched almost four years ago, revealed the universe’s “coolest” secrets by observing the frigid side of planet, star, and galaxy formation.

“Herschel gave us the opportunity to peer into the dark and cold regions of the universe that are invisible to other telescopes,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “This successful mission demonstrates how NASA and ESA can work together to tackle unsolved mysteries in astronomy.”

Confirmation the helium is exhausted came in the middle of April, at the beginning of the spacecraft’s daily communication session with its ground station in Western Australia. A clear rise in temperatures was measured in all of Herschel’s instruments.

Herschel launched onboard an Ariane 5 rocket from French Guiana in May 2009. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, built components for two of Herschel’s three science instruments. NASA also supports the U.S. astronomical community through the agency’s Herschel Science Center, located at the California Institute of Technology’s Infrared Processing and Analysis Center in Pasadena.

Herschel’s detectors were designed to pick up the glow from celestial objects with infrared wavelengths as long as 625 micrometers, which is 1000 times longer than what we can see with our eyes. Because heat interferes with these devices, they were chilled to temperatures as low as 2 K (–271°C, or 456°F) using liquid helium. The detectors also were kept cold by the spacecraft’s orbit, which is around a stable point called the second Lagrange point about 930,000 miles (1.5 million kilometers) from Earth. This location gave Herschel a better view of the universe.

“Herschel has improved our understanding of how new stars and planets form, but has also raised many new questions,” said Paul Goldsmith, NASA Herschel project scientist at JPL. “Astronomers will be following up on Herschel’s discoveries with groundbased and future spacebased observatories for years to come.”

The mission will not be making any more observations, but discoveries will continue. Astronomers still are looking over the data, much of which already is public and available through NASA’s Herschel Science Center. The final batch of data will be public in about six months.

“Our goal is to help the U.S. community exploit the nuggets of gold that lie in that data archive,” said Phil Appleton, project scientist at the science center.

Highlights of the mission include

Other findings from the mission include the discovery of some of the youngest stars ever seen in the nearby Orion “cradle,” and a peculiar planet-forming disk of material surrounding the star TW Hydra, indicating planet formation may happen over longer periods of time than expected. Herschel also has shown stars interact with their environment in many surprising ways, including leaving trails as they move through clouds of gas and dust.

For more information, visit

Herschel Space Observatory:  An ESA Mission with Participation from NASA

Herschel:  A European Space Agency Mission with NASA Participation

Herschel


Community News home page

 

Last updated May 2, 2013