Telescope Launch Day Is Only a Week Away

Two new telescopes will launch next Thursday, and scientists are hoping to look deep into space to gain greater insight into the history and composition of the universe.
Researchers will use the Herschel Space Observatory, a huge infrared telescope, to study some of space’s coldest objects, searching for signs of organic molecules and traces of water. “We’ll be studying the full extent of chemistry in space and we hope to learn what types of organics are out there as a function of their distance from a star,” Ted Bergin, a University of Michigan astronomer, says of the Herschel mission. “And we want to understand the chemical machinery that led to the formation of these organics.”
Bergin will use the telescope to study the gas and dust around young stars, looking for organic molecules. Many scientists believe the ingredients needed for the emergence of life on Earth came from space in things like comets and meteorites. “The chemistry of space makes molecules that are the precursors of life. It’s possible that the Earth didn’t have to make these things on its own, but that they were provided from space,” Bergin says. “Most of the water in the solar system is not where we are, but further out in the solar system. Most theories suggest that the Earth formed dry and impacts from asteroids or other objects provided the water here.”
The other telescope, Planck, will map the oldest light we see—the afterglow of the big bang, which we today call the “microwave cosmic background radiation.” And it will do so more accurately than has ever been possible before. The hope is that the new information will give scientists a better idea of how the universe began and what its future will look like. —Heather Wax

Category: Space


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