The Herschel Space Observatory has cleared its final hurdle before observations can start. On Sunday June 14th, the protective cover over the instruments was successfully removed, allowing scientists to see out for the first time.
Opening the cover was a vital step – if it had not worked, Herschel would never be able to make any observations because the instruments would not be able to see the sky. This was the last major hurdle for the project. It’s just like taking the lens cap off your camera – before it’s completed all you can see is black.
Professor Matt Griffin who is SPIRE’s Principal Investigator, said: “A command was transmitted to the Herschel spacecraft to execute this critical operation. Herschel is so far away that actually it took over five seconds to reach the spacecraft. The cover then opened exactly as planned. Two small pyrotechnic charges were fired and the cover sprang back, opening the window and allowing the light collected by the Herschel telescope to get in to the instruments. Now we can make our first observations with Herschel.”
The movie of the lid opening is shown below.
During the weeks following the Herschel launch on May 14 from the European spaceport in French Guiana, the Herschel instruments have been thoroughly checked and are now ready to start looking at the sky.
The next step will be to make some trial observations. Later this week the SPIRE instrument will look at the planet Neptune, and the Helix Nebula, a bright cloud of luminous material formed at the end of a star’s evolution. Then the telescope pointing system will be checked so that each instrument can be pointed with great precision at any part of the sky. See the BBC News article here.