Planck's First Science

After many years of hard work by many people, and some stunning early images, I'm pleased to say that the European Space Agency's Planck satellite has just released its first science data (although one paper about extreme radio sources sources has slipped out a day before the rest on the arXiv).

These data aren't about cosmology - the signatures of which are very faint and hard to extract from the data - and we have to wait another two years for those to be made public. The results released today predominantly cover astronomy in the "foreground" to the Cosmic Microwave Background. That pretty much covers most of the Universe and shows what amazing science Planck is doing that is unconnected to its primary mission.

The first news is that a catalogue of around 15,000 "compact sources" (the Early Release Compact Source Catalogue - ERCSC) seen by Planck has been released. Compact sources can be within our galaxy but also include many distant galaxies that are too far away to be seen in any detail by Planck. Although images of these objects would show no detail, the range of frequencies Planck observes over allows us to make a spectrum and then work out the physics of each source. By publishing the catalogue now, people with other telescopes will be able to observe the same objects whilst Planck is still surveying the sky (should get up to 5 full sky surveys out of the coolers). Those ground-based measurements will allow even more science to be teased out of the data.

The results also include interesting work on 'anomalous microwave emission' for which evidence has only started to accumulate in recent years (listen to Prof Rod Davies describing anomalous emission on an episode of the Jodcast). Planck data confirm that this emission is coming from dust grains spinning extremely quickly (tens of billions of times per second!). At the press conference, Clive Dickinson (JBCA) also mentioned the discovery of "dark gas" (not to be confused with dark matter or dark energy) which seem to be regions that don't have much atomic hydrogen or carbon monoxide. This might be a new component of the interstellar medium!

Look out for around 24 Planck papers hitting the arXiv tomorrow or read them on the ESA site now.

I had the privilege to work on Planck for four years and have got to know some brilliant people over that time. As these first science results come out I send my congratulations to all the scientists and engineers across Europe and the US who I've got to know and become friends with. We've built an amazing machine.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Tuesday 11th Jan 2011 (13:00 GMT) | Permalink
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