It is the largest infrared telescope ever to have been sent up into space, but alas scientists are expecting the end to be coming soon. It’s called the Herschel Space Observatory and was launched in the Summer of 2009, it was of course named after the famous astronomer William Herschel. It’s a huge telescope and has a main mirror which measure over 11 feet in diameter. Just to put this into context that’s nearly 50% bigger than the Hubble Telescope. It’s goal was to focus on the infrared spectrum and attempt to map the universe and it’s light wavelengths.
There have been some stunning success stories, some of the best are perhaps that of the Eagle Nebula which you can see below.
However the problem with this telescope is that all the instruments it needs to carry out it’s work, must be kept very cool – as close as possible to absolute zero (-271 Celsius)as possible. Without these temperatures the instruments won’t work properly and will soon fail. These low temperatures are maintained by seating them above a tank which is filled with liquid helium.
At least it used to be filled, slowly the helium has been evaporating into space and now it is thought is nearly all gone. The scientists are not sure how long it will last but they are fearing the end soon. When the coolant does run out the temperature of the equipment will start to rise quite quickly.
The experiment though has been deemed to be a success for the ESA who are based in Darmstadt, Germany. It has clocked up over 20,000 hours of scientific observation. You can see some of the highlights of the experiment on various TV channels across Europe – there was some good ones on the German broadcasters. You will need a German server to connect through if you’re based outside Germany unfortunately, this site gives some details if you need http://thenewproxies.com/german-proxy/
The project was always aware that it’s lifespan was limited by the suply of liquid Helium so they’ve maximised the use of the telescope and no one can doubt it’s value to space exploration.
Additional Details on US and Australian Media sites – www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rag6-8Mmbe0