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Space telescope captures ancient light from Big Bang

The Planck telescope is studying radiation that's 13 billion years old

August 14, 2009 03:29 PM ET

Computerworld - A space telescope that was launched in May has already begun to collect light left over from the Big Bang that created the universe.

The European Space Agency's Planck space telescope, which lifted off from a spaceport in French Guiana, began collecting scientific data on Thursday. If all goes as planned, the telescope will operate for at least the next 15 months.

The Planck telescope is the key to the European Space Agency's first mission to study the 13-billion to 14-billion-year-old radiation from the Big Bang. Scientists are hoping to study the radiation and fluctuations in its temperature to gain new insights into the origin of the universe and the formation of galaxies.

Planck, which is known as a cosmic background mapper, launched in conjunction with an infrared space telescope named Herschel. Both spacecraft piggy-backed aboard an Ariane 5 rocket for liftoff and sent their first radio transmissions back to Earth less than 40 minutes after launch.

Both Planck and Herschel are designed to focus on the darkest, coldest and oldest parts of the universe, studying dark matter, and dark energy, which is believed to drive the accelerating expansion of the universe. Both crafts are designed to help scientists unravel the mysteries of the theoretical Big Bang by peering back into the earliest moments of the universe.

"Herschel and Planck will enable us to go very far back in time, to the origins of our universe, and it is only by better understanding our universe's overall past that we can help to better define the future of our planet, the Earth, not as a self-standing celestial body but as an integral part of the whole system," Jean-Jacques Dordain, the European Space Agency's director general, said during a news conference earlier this year.

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