One year in Space

Planck and Herschel launch
The launch of the Ariane 5 rocket carrying Planck and Herschel into space.

At 13.12 GMT on 14 May 2009, an Ariane 5 rocket carrying two brand new space telescopes launched into space.  The two telescopes were Planck, which will make the most sensitive maps of early Universe over the whole sky, and Herschel, the largest infrared space telescope ever launched.

Planck separated from the upper stages of the rocket about half an hour after launch, and has been on its own since then.  It took about 6 weeks to cruise to its final orbit around L2, executing a number of course adjustments on the way.  The instruments were cooling all the time, and by early July 2009, Planck was the coldest known place in space.

The performance of Planck was demonstrated in the two-week First Light Survey.  The results were excellent, showing that both instruments were working as expected.  As of 27th August, the first all-sky survey officially began, and has been continuing ever since.

Planck and IRAS image of cold dust in the galaxy
Cold dust in the Glaxy, combining Planck with data from the IRAS satellite

The first all-sky survey ended on 14th February 2010, and the second all-sky survey immediately began.  The analysis of the data is well under way, but the full details of the comsological results will take another few years before being released.  Planck has unprecedented wavelength coverage, from 0.3 mm to 10 mm.  This gives it the ability to identify the different components in the Universe, and its large survey area means it can do this over extremely large areas of the sky.  It has mapped cold dust in the galaxy, and separated the emission into its different components - dust and gas.  Similar images over the whole sky are currenlty being processed

The Planck mission will continue for roughly 2 more years - allowing it to complete four surveys of the sky.  Eventually, the liquid helium coolant on the High Frequency Instrument will run out, though the Low Frequency Instrument could continue working in principle.  Keep checking back here for the latest results and news about Planck.  You can use our RSS feed to keep up to date with the latest news and mission updates.