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Europe launches Herschel and Planck space telescopes

An Ariane rocket has launched two powerful space telescopes, Herschel and Planck, designed to help scientists better understand the formation and origins of the universe, as well as the formation of stars and galaxies.

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Reuters - An Ariane rocket launched two scientific space observatories on Thursday that will help scientists better understand the formation of the universe, space officials said.


The rocket blasted off from the European Space Agency’s (ESA) launch centre in Kourou, French Guiana, on the northeast coast of South America at 10.12 am (1312 GMT).


Billed by the ESA as “two of the most sophisticated astronomical spacecraft ever built,” the two observatories will begin a 60-day journey to the Lagrange point, an orbital slot 1.5 million kilometres (about 1 million miles) from Earth.


Released 26 minutes after launch was the Herschel space telescope which will investigate how stars and galaxies form and how they evolve. Herschel has the largest mirror of any space telescope now in orbit. Its 3.5 meter (11.5 ft) diameter primary mirror is one-and-a-half-times the size of the Hubble Telescope’s main reflector.


Two minutes later, the Planck observatory separated from the rocket. Planck is designed to provide new insights into how the universe came into being and why it looks the way it does now.


Both satellites will be cooled to nearly absolute zero in order to function.


Prime contractor for both spacecraft was Thales Alenia Space, a joint venture company between France’s Thales and Italy’s Finmeccanica .


The launch comes as a Nasa shuttle reached Hubble on a repair mission to give it a new lease of life.
 

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