Herschel News

I’ve been a bit slow to mention recent news about the European Space Agency‘s Herschel mission so this is by way of a quick update.

The first thing is to remind you that there was a big meeting of Herschel scientists in Madrid just before Christmas, which was attended by quite a number of Cardiff astronomers. It also happened to coincide with  less happy events. The purpose of this meeting was to share the preliminary results from the Science Demonstration Phase of Herschel’s operations. I did a quick post about some of the results, but didn’t have time to cover everything, which I still don’t. However, the complete set of presentations is now available online and I’d encourage you to sample some of the amazing results. Matt Griffin gave a nice overview of the key results at the RAS Ordinary Meeting just over a week ago.

You may recall that the Herschel telescope is fitted with three instruments:

  • The Photodetector Array Camera and Spectrometer (PACS)
  • The Spectral and Photometric Imaging REceiver (SPIRE)
  • The Heterodyne Instrument for the Far Infrared (HIFI)

The last of these instruments is basically a high-resolution spectrometer which, among other things will be great for detecting spectral lines from molecules, including good old H2O. In fact here’s a nice example of a water line seen in a comet

The problem is that HIFI has actually been switched off for quite a while – 160 days in fact – after a fault developed in its power supply. There is a backup power-supply, of course, but the engineers didn’t want to switch it over until they had figured out what had gone wrong, which took quite a while.  However, last Thursday, the HIFI instrument was switched back on and is now working fine. The full story can be found here. It was also covered quite a bit in the general media, including  the BBC.

While HIFI was offline, the calibration and verification of PACS and SPIRE went ahead at a good speed and now HIFI will have to catch up which has meant a bit of juggling around with schedules but, other than that, it’s all systems go…

Finally, I’ll just point out in case you didn’t know or have forgotten, that the Herschel Mission has its own wordpress blog, which is regularly updated  and is well worth checking out.

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One Response to “Herschel News”

  1. Thanks for mentioning the mission blog!

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