Two European satellites set to delve deeper into the birth of stars and origins of the universe successfully launched into space Thursday morning.
The Herschel Space Observatory and Planck space telescope were launched simultaneously from a single Ariane 5 rocket at 9:12 a.m. ET Thursday from a launch pad in Kourou, French Guiana.
Both satellites then successfully separated from the rocket and are communicating with the European Space Agency ground antennas located in Australia, the ESA said Thursday.
Herschel is a large telescope designed to look in the far-infrared portion of the electromagnetic spectrum — seeking some of the coldest, farthest objects in space — and features the ability to study molecules in space.
The mirror the Herschel relies on to draw and focus light is the largest ever launched into space, with a diametre of 3.5 metres, almost 1½ times as large as the mirror on the Hubble space telescope.
Canadian researchers from six universities as well as the National Research Council Canada contributed to the development of two of Herschel's instruments: the spectral and photometric imaging receiver (SPIRE) and the heterodyne instrument for the far infrared (HIFI).
Cambridge, Ont.-based COM DEV was also the prime contractor for the local oscillator source unit, a device that acts to "tune" HIFI to particular frequencies.
Planck is designed to detect subtle variations in temperature in the cosmic microwave background, radiation that is a lasting relic of the first light emitted in space, some 380,000 years after the Big Bang. Astronomers hope Planck will be able to provide the most accurate picture yet of the early universe.
Researchers at the University of British Columbia and the University of Toronto designed some of the software used to analyze the data Planck's instruments collect.