RIP the World's Largest Infrared Telescope

The Herschel Space Observatory was the world's largest and most powerful infrared telescope, able to see parts of the universe nothing else could. Unfortunately, it met its maker last night when it ran out of the liquid helium coolant it requires to map hidden corners of the cosmos.

Per the European Space Agency:

Herschel's observations have exceeded expectations, enabling scientists to learn more about how stars form, about the rates of star formation in galaxies across the cosmos, and about the origin and presence of water in different celestial bodies. While observations have come to an end and the spacecraft is to be propelled to a stable parking orbit around the Sun, where it will remain indefinitely, the science mission will continue for several years with many discoveries still to be made in the treasure trove of images and spectra collected by the observatory.


So why was Herschel such a big deal? With a main mirror of 11.5 feet across—one and a half times larger than the Hubble Telescope—it was able to reveal to us a previously unseen process of star birth and galaxy formation. In fact, the big guy could chart the universe in amazing ultra-specific detail, from far-infrared to submillimeter wavelengths of light.

Herschel was launched in 2009, and although he's gone, he leaves behind an important legacy—more than 35,000 scientific observations and a whopping 25,000 hours of data. Included in that are incredible images of parts of deep space like the Eagle Nebula (seen up top) and Andromeda Galaxy. And it was also able to record stars born closer to home in the Milky Way, thanks to its helium-cooled instruments. Data from Herschel will be used in research for many years to come. Needless to say, it was a very important telescope. And although Herschel is gone, it's certainly not forgotten. [ESA via]

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