January 11, 2011

Planck Results Delighting Astronomers Around The World

Europe's billion-dollar Planck space telescope brought results on Tuesday that have delighted astronomers as it showed off 15,000 new celestial objects.

Astronomers reported at a conference in Paris that Planck has carried out three complete scans of the Universe, showing off 15,000 new celestial objects, including 30 galaxy clusters.

Jan Tauber, a project scientist at the European Space Agency (ESA), said that the data is a "treasure trove" that will be exploited for years to come.

"For the Planck community, this is a big day," Tauber said in a statement. "It's hard for us to transmit the excitement that we feel."

Planck is designed to probe the microwave secrets of the "Big Bang" dating back some 14 billion years ago.

The space telescope orbits about 937,000 miles from Earth and is probing the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB).

One of the tasks that the telescope has overcome is to remove a "fog" of microwave emissions, which is a diffuse glow that for decades has distorted the view of deep space.

Planck confirmed the theory that the "fog" comes form nanoscale grains that are set spinning at several tens of billions of times a second, by collision either with fast-moving atoms or packets of ultraviolet light.

"This is a great result made possible by the exceptional quality of the Planck data," Dr Clive Dickinson, University of Manchester, UK said in a statement.

Scientists should be able to filter out this signal, enabling them to concentrate on genuine CMB traces in Planck's data.

NASA said following the European Space Agency's announcement that it supports the mission.

"NASA is pleased to support this important mission, and we have eagerly awaited Planck's first discoveries," said Jon Morse, NASA's Astrophysics Division director at the agency's headquarters in Washington. "We look forward to continued collaboration with ESA and more outstanding science to come."

The Paris conference was briefed on 25 papers that each detailed the data finds from Planck.  The papers have all been submitted to journal Astronomy and Astrophysicists for publication.

"These new results are all vital pieces of a jigsaw that could give us a full picture of the evolution of both our own cosmic backyard -- the Milky Way galaxy that we live in -- as well as the early history of the whole Universe," David Parker, director of space science at ESA, told AFP.

Planck's long telescope focuses radiation onto two array of detectors which are cooled to nearly absolute zero.

The telescope had a mission duration of 15 months, but its operations have already been extended by two years.

The telescope is named after the 20th-century German physicists Max Planck, who founded the quantum theory.


Image 1: This map illustrates the numerous star-forming clouds, called cold cores, that Planck observed throughout our Milky Way galaxy. Image credit: ESA/NASA/JPL-Caltech

Image 2: This image shows the location of the first six fields used to detect and study the Cosmic Infrared Background. The fields, named N1, AG, SP, LH2, Boötes 1 and Boötes 2, respectively, are all located at a relatively high galactic latitude, where the foreground contamination due to the Milky Way's diffuse emission is less dramatic. Credits: ESA/Planck Collaboration


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