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Herschel will share its launch with a partner, the Planck microwave space observatory, as it begins its journey to its destination in space. The two satellites are now undergoing their final tests before launch.
Herschel, the largest telescope ever launched, will study objects within and outside our Galaxy. It will be able to peer through clouds of gas and dust and observe stars as they form.
Unlike Herschel, Planck will rotate continuously about its axis, scanning the whole sky to compile the most detailed and complete map ever of the Cosmic Microwave Background, or CMB. This CMB radiation is the relic radiation left over from the Big Bang, which occurred about 14 thousand million years ago.
Herschel and Planck are scheduled for launch together atop an Ariane 5 rocket on 16 April 2009 from ESA’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.