Herschel space telescope (Courtesy: ESA)
By João Medeiros
According to Jonathan Gardner, from NASA, we are going through an unparalleled renaissance of astronomy, maybe only comparable with Galileo´s pioneering efforts. In fact, most astronomy talks today seem to start with the words “We now know…”
Speaking at the IYA opening in Paris he noted that over the past decades, we’ve discovered inflation, the universe´s flat geometry and that 95% of the mass of the universe is actually not on the periodic table.
Part of the reason for this renaissance has been the dream team of space telescopes, Hubble, Chandra and Spitzer. As this generation of the telescopes is reaching the end of its days, a new one is getting ready to launch. The space telescope Herschel will be launched in April, Hubble telescope is going to be granted a new lease of life with another serving mission May this year, and 2013 will see the launch of the James Webb telescope.
There´s also Planck, Herschel´s sister mission (like the fact that it´s a she, to balance that aforementioned gender inequality in science), planned to launch this year.
Hubble´s revamping is going to be take place in May. They are going to replace Hubble´s batteries, implant new gyroscopes, repair some of the instruments and put two new pieces of tech on the satellite: the cosmic origins spectrograph (which is going to measure the cosmic web of gas between the galaxies) and the WFC3 (wide field camera, that will look for high redshift supernovae).
The new generation of space telescopes is going to prioritize the study of star formation, exoplanets (undoubtedly THE topic of astro at the moment) and the end of the dark ages, when the first galaxies formed and ionized the interstellar medium. All in the spirit of Carl Sagan´s philosophy “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”