Planck Telescope Shutting Down
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
After for four years surveying the Universe for the European Space Agency (ESA), the Planck space telescope’s Low Frequency Instrument will be turned off on Saturday, having completed its science operations on October 3.
The telescope’s High Frequency Instrument ended operation in January 2012, after conducting five all-sky surveys. With some operational loose ends still to tie up, Planck will finally be switched off next week.
[ Watch the Video: Planck’s View of the Universe ]
Earlier this year, scientists sifting through the telescope’s data created the most defined image of the cosmic microwave background (CMB), which is radiation left over from the Big Bang that was imprinted when the Universe was only 380,000 years old.
ESA scientists referred to the CMB as “the most accurate snapshot of the matter distribution in the early Universe,” in a recent press release.
The space agency noted the CMB shows small temperature fluctuations that relate to regions of somewhat different densities of cosmic material during the very early years of the universe – essentially indicating the seeds of cosmic structures, the stars and galaxies of today.
“Planck has delivered the most precise all-sky image of the CMB that is enabling us to test a huge variety of models of the origin and evolution of the cosmos,” said Jan Tauber, ESA’s Planck project scientist. “But long and meticulous work was required before we could start exploiting this wealth of cosmological information, since the CMB is hidden behind foreground glare including emissions from material within our own Galaxy, as well as from other galaxies and galaxy clusters.”
ESA points out Planck allowed for the creation of “the most extensive catalogue of the largest galaxy clusters, the most massive building blocks in our Universe.”
The space agency added that the telescope has identified cold, dense bundles of matter in the Milky Way that are reservoirs of material capable of sprouting new stars.
Planck has provided new details on the relative proportions of the Universe’s component ingredients outside the Milky Way. Standard matter that makes up stars and galaxies is just 4.9 percent of the mass and energy density in the Universe. Dark matter, only seen indirectly by its gravitational effects on visible objects, was found to make up nearly 27 percent of the Universe, more than previously thought.
Planck has also shown that dark energy, a mysterious force believed to be responsible for speeding the expansion of the Universe, makes up over 68 percent of the Universe, less than previously thought.
Planck was launched in May 2009 and placed into an orbit 930,000 miles above Earth. About one month later, the craft began its first all-sky survey, which was completed in September 2009.
In January 2010, Planck’s survey mission was extended by 12 months and the first set of mission data was released three months later.
ESA revealed a massive amount of data from the mission earlier this year, including an all-sky map of the cosmic microwave background. The map indicated the Universe is 13.8 billion years old, slightly older than previously thought.