free debate

June 19, 2009

New Telescope, Exciting Opportunities

The Herschel Space telescope just took its first picture. Launched May 14th, it traveled almost one million miles (1.5 million kilometers) to reach its resting place. Herschel will be in a special orbit behind the earth relative to the sun.

Herschel will be looking at the universe in types of light invisible to our eyes. Herschel will use light from the infrared to the sub-millimeter part of the spectrum. These wavelengths of light can be thought of as colors beyond red that our eyes can't detect. These colors are often used because they give us a different view of our universe. Infrared, for example, is often used for looking through clouds of dust that block regular or visible light. In some of these wavelengths, Herschel will be breaking new ground.

The main mirror on Herschel is 3.5 meters (about 11.5 feet) across making it the largest telescope space telescope. The Hubble Space Telescope by example has a mirror 2.4 meters (about 7.9 feet) across. A bigger mirror lets you gather more light. This will allow Herschel to get better images of very dim objects.

Spitzer, another infrared space telescope, has made tons of exciting discoveries over the last few years. With its bigger mirror and ability to peer into new colors of light, astronomers are hoping for a whole gamut of new discoveries. This image an exciting start. You can see the clear difference in quality between the Spitzer image (left) and the Herschel (right). If Spitzer is still turning out amazing science, I can't wait to see what Herschel does.