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Herschel

Herschel
(Credit: ESA)

The ESA Herschel Space Observatory was launched in tandem with ESA's Planck spacecraft on the 14th May 2009. Herschel will investigate the history of how stars and galaxies formed and will study how they continue to form in our own and other galaxies. Herschell will observe at wavelengths never covered before.

Herschel is the largest infrared space observatory launched to date and has the largest single mirror ever built for a space telescope. At 3.5m in diameter the mirror will collect long-wavelength radiation from some of the coldest and most distant objects in the Universe. In addition, Herschel will be the only space observatory to cover a spectral range from the far infrared to sub-millimetre parts of the spectrum (from 55 to 672 µm).

Onboard are three scientific instruments designed to carry out imaging and spectroscopy:

  • HIFI (link opens in a new window) (Heterodyne Instrument for the Far Infrared); a very high resolution heterodyne spectrometer that can be used to obtain information about the chemical composition and physical environment of infrared sources.
  • PACS (link opens in a new window) (Photodetector Array Camera and Spectrometer); an imaging photometer and medium resolution spectrometer. It uses five detector arrays: three to take images of infrared sources in three different infrared colours and two to fully analyse the longer infrared light being released from the source.
  • SPIRE (link opens in a new window) (Spectral and Photometric Imaging Receiver); an imaging photometer and an imaging Fourier transform spectrometer. Operating between 200 and 700 µm and searching for galaxies that are young in cosmological terms. SPIRE was built by a consortium of European and American groups and led by Cardiff University.

PACS and SPIRE are cameras and spectrometers that enable Herschel to take images in six different colours in the far-infrared.

RAL Space was responsible for the conceptual design of the SPIRE instrument, project management, in-flight operations and instrument calibration.

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