Planck is helping scientists answer some of the most fundamental questions about the birth and evolution of the Universe.
Studying the birth of the Universe
(JPG, 467 Kb)
Artist's impression of the Planck satellite.
Planck is, in effect, a kind of time machine. The mission will attempt to predict the future of the Universe by studying its past. Scientists hope it will help them answer key questions such as:
how old is the Universe and how quickly is it expanding?
will it continue to grow forever or ultimately collapse?
what is the nature of dark matter and dark energy?
Using Planck to examine the ancient radiation released shortly after the Universe was formed, known as the cosmic microwave background radiation, scientists are able to study all the way back to the time of the Big Bang itself 13.7 billion years ago years ago.
The mission will provide information about how our Galaxy and others first formed and will give us clues about when they may end.
Visit the UK Planck website.
Planck is named after the German scientist, Max Planck, who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1918.
Dark matter emits no observable electromagnetic radiation yet astronomers believe it makes up most of our Universe. Its presence is thought to account for why galaxies do not fly apart even though the stars in a galaxy do not weigh enough to hold them together. But as it cannot be observed directly, this 'dark' (or missing matter) must be detected indirectly through its gravitational pull on light and sources of light.
ESA launched Planck together with
on 14 May 2009. The two spacecraft then separated from the launch vehicle to go on their independent missions.
The Planck spacecraft sits 1.5 million km above the Earth. This ensures measurements aren't affected by heat from the Earth, Moon or Sun.
More than 40 European scientific institutes, and a small number of US ones, helped build the instruments on Planck.
The telescope works with two instruments, one to detect high frequency cosmic microwave background signals, the other low frequency signals. A complex system of refrigerators helps to achieve the necessary temperature for the experiments.
The UK is playing a major role in the Planck mission. A number of UK institutes and companies form part of the consortium that built the two focal plane instruments, HFI and LFI. The Jodrell Bank Observatory at The University of Manchester produced critical elements of the LFI receiver modules.
Cardiff University, STFC RAL and SEA were involved with hardware development for HFI, while various UK research groups including Imperial College London and University of Cambridge form the London Planck Analysis Centre and Cambridge Planck Analysis Centre. These groups are involved with data analysis and simulation for the HFI data analysis and simulation software.