European Space Agency Planck Spacecraft Finishes Its Mission

ESA officials announced that the High Frequency Instrument (HFI), one of two sensors aboard the European Space Agency’s Planck spacecraft, ran out of its vital coolant as planned on January 14. Without the coolant, the instrument can’t detect the faint cosmic microwave background (CMB), the remnant radiation left over from the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago. According to researchers the instrument did its job, completing five full-sky surveys of the CMB since the spacecraft’s May 2009 launch. Planck’s mission called for a minimum of two such surveys. Researchers have already announced some initial results from the Planck mission. These include a catalog of galaxy clusters in the distant universe, many of which had not been  seen  before and the best measurement yet of an infrared background covering the sky. However, the first Planck findings about the Big Bang and CMB are not expected for another year. More time is needed to tease the faint and subtle CMB signals out from a sea of other emissions. Planck’s results could shed a great deal of light on the Big Bang and its aftermath, an ancient epoch that is well-understood only in its basic outlines. The Big Bang data will be released in two stages. According to researchers the first 15 1/2-months’ worth of observations will be published in early 2013, and the full data release from the entire mission will come a year after that.