ESA's Cosmic Vision
Kicking off the plenary sessions at this year's NAM is Mark McCaughrean speaking on ESA's Cosmic Vision Programme. ESA has been flying missions since the 1960s, and is currently at an all time high in space science missions with 17 missions that ESA leads or has collaboration with.
One mission that launched nearly a year ago is Planck, which will "map everything between us and the cosmic microwave background (CMB)," says McCaughrean, who showed us the first whole sky map of the CMB, the left over radiation from the big bang, that Planck has just completed. In total, Planck will complete four all-sky surveys, and provide a compact source catalogue, which will be released in early 2011. [Read our report of Planck's first look into the past (image shown above) here: http://www.astronomynow.com/news/n0909/17planck/]
Onto ESA's cosmic vision for the next decade, and soon up for launch is Lisa-Pathfinder, which will hunt down elusive gravitational waves, and Gaia, which will provide new detail on general relativity and cosmic reference frames by mapping the Galaxy in three dimensions with positional and radial velocity data for some one billion stars. The joint ESA/NASA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope, due for launch in 2014 is also progressing well. McCaughrean told us that all 18 mirrors are now built and being integrated into spacecraft. "It's an astonshing pice of technology," he said.
McCaughrean also told us that out of the Solar Orbiter, Euclid, PLATO and SPICA missions currently under study, only two will be chosen, to be decided in mid 2011 and ultimately launched in 2017-2018. Euclid is an astrophysics mission designed to look at the 'dark' Universe. By using weak lensing techniques, high resolution visible imaging, infrared imaging and near infrared spectroscopy, Euclid will track down the initial structure of the Universe and decipher how it evolved. Plato is an exoplanet transit mission like none before. With a wide field of view it will uncover planets around bright stars, and cover as much as fifty percent of the whole sky. Solar Orbiter will strive to answer questions about our own star, such as how does the Sun create and control the heliosphere? Where does the solar wind originate and how does it drive the Sun's variability? How do solar eruptions produce energetic particle radiation? Finally, SPICA a 3-metre infrared observatory, will surpass the capabilities of Herschel with increased sensitivity, allowing it to probe deeper into the Universe. "We're in a competitive deifintion phase," says McCaughrean, "missions not selected will be terminated."
TrackBack URL: http://www.astronomynow.com/cgi-sys/cgiwrap/sfnvideo/managed-mt/mt-tb.cgi/102