As of August 13, 2009, the Planck mission is officially in business. It is now seeing light billions of years old, left over from the Big Bang. From its location in the L2 point, the spacecraft started collecting science data as part of the “First Light Survey” which is intended to check out all the systems. If all goes as planned, these observations will be the first of 15 or more months of data gathered from two full-sky scans.
Researcher Chris North wrote on the Planck website that “the major science results will take quite a while to come out due to the immense amount of computation needed to analyse them, and are expected in around 3 years’ time. These results will be a full-sky map of the Cosmic Microwave Background, and more accurate measurements of the parameters which have governed how our Universe has evolved.”
The mission, which is led by the European Space Agency with important participation from NASA, will help answer the most fundamental of questions: How did space itself pop into existence and expand to become the universe we live in today? The answer is hidden in ancient light, called the cosmic microwave background, which has traveled more than 13 billion years to reach us. Planck will measure tiny variations in this light with the best precision to date.
After the 15 month prime mission, Planck will continue to scan the sky until its coolant runs out.
For more on Planck, check out these websites: