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05 May 2009

Professor Matt Griffin, School of Physics and Astronomy

The launch date for two key space astronomy satellites developed by University experts has been confirmed.

On May 14th 2009 the European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Observatory and Planck Surveyor satellites will be launched into space on the same Ariane 5 rocket.

On board Herschel will be the SPIRE instrument developed by a team led by Professor Matt Griffin, School of Physics and Astronomy. The Planck satellite will contain the key instruments for which a Cardiff team, led by Professor Peter Ade, provided key hardware.

Herschel will view the Universe at far infrared wavelengths, giving us the most detailed information yet about the birth and evolution of our Universe and its stars and galaxies.

Herschel abstract

Professor Griffin who is SPIRE’s Principal Investigator, said "SPIRE contains a sophisticated camera which will allow us to take detailed images simultaneously in three submillimetre ‘colours’, and it also has an imaging spectrometer to measure the spectral features of atoms and molecules.

"It will offer astronomers a very powerful tool for many astrophysical studies from our own solar system to the most distant galaxies. The results will reveal how stars like the Sun are forming in our own galaxy today, how the galaxies grew and evolved over cosmic time, and how planetary systems can develop from the dust and gas around young stars."

Planck will survey the whole sky in nine wavelength bands, measuring the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation to unprecedented accuracy and allowing cosmologists to compare it with the predictions of their theories of the Big Bang and the fundamental physics that led to it.

Professor Ade, also from the School of Physics and Astronomy and the UK Instrument Scientist for Planck, said "The Planck satellite will revolutionise our understanding of how the Universe we live in began in the first split second of the Big Bang, and it will use the early universe as a laboratory for fundamental physics, revealing new insight into the forces of nature."

Cardiff astronomers are also preparing for scientific observations with Herschel and Planck, and will be leading a number of the major science programmes that the satellites will carry out.

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