Herschel space observatory telescope stops functioning

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The European Space Agency's Herschel Space Observatory (the largest and most powerful infrared telescope ever put into space), launched on May 14, 2009 has retired/ stopped functioning, on April 30, 2013 as its liquid helium coolant was exhausted/ evaporated which was essential to cool the observatory’s instruments to close to absolute zero. Cooling was necessary to allow the instruments to track traces of cold gases and dust in the many star-forming pockets of the universe as well as probe the innards of distant supernovae.

  • The Herschel space observatory telescope- (formerly called Far Infrared and Sub-millimetre Telescope or FIRST) has the largest single mirror (3.5-m diameter) ever built for a space telescope, to collect long-wavelength radiation from some of the coldest and most distant objects in the Universe. Herschel was the only space observatory to cover a spectral range from the far infrared to sub-millimetre.
  • An Ariane 5 rocket launched the telescope into 1.5 million km away Lagrangian point L2( where gravitational pulls due to Earth and the Sun are equal ) to lock Herschel into a fixed point above Earth.
  • It has three on-board instruments : PACS, SPIRE and HIFI.


  • During its lifetime Herschel made over 35,000 scientific observations, amassing more than 25,000 hours worth of science data from about 600 observing programmes ,examination of which will provide further insights in to Universe.
  • It captured previously unseen process of star birth and galaxy formation, and helped to trace water through the Universe from molecular clouds to newborn stars and their planet-forming discs and belts of comets.
  • Herschel’s stunning images of intricate networks of dust and gas filaments within our Milky Way Galaxy provide an illustrated history of star formation.
  • Insight into how molecular clouds make stars and why some don't ; that half of the total star formation in the universe is obscured by dust

Though no replacement has been planned, The ALMA observatory in Chile, which came online on March 13 and also observes in the submillimetre range, will now be of great help in studyingsimilar processes.

  • Thomas Passvogel, ESA’s Herschel Programme Manager.
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