Monday, May 18, 2009
What is going on with the Herschel and Planck missions?
The European Space Agency launched an ambitious set of satellites a few days ago: Herschel is a 3.5m diameter infrared telescope, and Planck is a cosmic microwave background telescope. Both are planned to be placed in one of Earth's Lagrangian points called L2. Upon launch such large objects can be tracked with optical telescope for a while. Upon examining these images, astronomers found not two objects, but at first four, which turned out to be the booster rocket and the structure holding both satellite while launching (see here). But later, they found two more fainter objects. These objects have seemingly moved off of the Herschel/Planck trajectory. What were they? The other more disturbing news came today, when Jean-Claude Pelle of Southern Stars Observatories reported finding dozens of new objects in the same path. This implies a possible failure of one or more of the telescopes and would be a blow to science.