Studying the cosmic microwave background
That is the question the Planck mission will attempt to answer. Its telescope is designed to detect the tiniest variations in the cosmic microwave background (CMB), the cooled remnant of the first light to appear in the Universe about 380,000 years after the Big Bang.
Detected for the 1st time in 1964, this “fossil” radiation is at a mean temperature of about –270°C.
The smallest variations in this value are a rich source of information concerning the Universe’s origins and characteristics, revealing the 1st materials that ever accreted.
Standing up to extreme cold
For this mission, CNES, in partnership with the French national scientific research centre CNRS, is:
- overseeing development of the HFI instrument, one of the 2 focal instruments,
- responsible for the HFI cooling system, required to cool the instrument’s detectors to 0.1°K (–273°C),
- funding all French contributions developed by French laboratories,
- processing associated data.
A helium dilution refrigerator will cool the instrument’s detectors to the temperature at which it will operate in space (0.1 K or –273°C). The HFI will then be integrated with the other instrument in the satellite’s payload.
Planck will be launched early in 2008 by an Ariane 5 with the Herschel infrared space observatory. It is scheduled to operate for at least 2½ years.