Planck, Studying the birth of the Universe

Studying the birth of the Universe

  • Undergoing final testing
  • Launch scheduled for 2008
  • Mission end 2009-2010
Planck will help scientists answer some of the most fundamental questions about the birth and evolution of the Universe.

Planck is, in effect, a kind of time machine. The mission will attempt to predict the future of the Universe by studying its past. Scientists hope it will help them answer key questions such as:

  • How old is the Universe and how quickly is it expanding?
  • Will it continue to grow forever or ultimately collapse?
  • What is the nature of dark matter and dark energy?

Using Planck to examine the ancient radiation released shortly after the Universe was formed, known as the cosmic microwave background radiation, scientists will be able to study all the way back to the time of the Big Bang itself 15 billion years ago.

The mission will provide information about how our Galaxy and others first formed and will give us clues about when they may end.

Mission facts

  • Planck is named after the German scientist, Max Planck, who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1918.

  • Dark matter emits no observable electromagnetic radiation yet astronomers believe it makes up most of our Universe. Its presence is thought to account for why galaxies do not fly apart even though the stars in a galaxy do not weigh enough to hold them together. But as it cannot be observed directly, this ‘dark’ (or missing matter) must be detected indirectly through its gravitational pull on light and sources of light.

  • ESA will launch Planck together with Herschel in 2008. The two spacecraft will separate from the launch vehicle to go on their independent missions.

  • The Planck spacecraft will sit 1.5 million km above the Earth. This will ensure measurements aren't affected by heat from the Earth, Moon or Sun.


More than 40 European scientific institutes, and a small number of US ones, are helping to build the instruments Planck will use.

The telescope will work with two instruments, one to detect high frequency cosmic microwave background signals, the other low frequency signals. A complex system of refrigerators will help to achieve the necessary temperature for the experiments.

UK involvement

Several university and industrial groups in the UK are helping to design and build the instruments on Planck. UK science teams will play a major role in the analysis of results from the mission.

Groups involved include Cardiff University, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Cambridge University and Imperial College London. The main industrial partner in the UK is System Engineering and Assessment Limited.

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