The Union Recorder


March 26, 2013

OUR SPACE: Say so long to Herschel

MILLEDGEVILLE — Any day now we could lose the Herschel Space Telescope. Wait a minute, you might say. The what?

It’s quite likely you’ve never heard of Herschel, mostly because we’re here in the U.S. and Herschel is a European project. Like Spitzer, Herschel is an infrared telescope, seeking out the faintest heat signatures from beyond all visible light. And like Spitzer it does so by cooling itself to a fraction of a degree above absolute zero. In the infinite entropy of the universe, anything that has even the tiniest bit of a temperature reading can theoretically be detected by Herschel.

So let’s look into that much larger cousin of our beloved Hubble Space Telescope.

NASA contributed some hardware to the telescope which was launched in 2009 and reached its destination about two months later. Herschel parked itself at this marvelous point in space called a Lagrange point, where the gravitational pull of the Earth and the sun balance each other out. Our pal Kepler is using the same principle to stay in one region of space in order to observe the exact same piece of sky over long periods of time.

Herschel has performed splendidly over the past four years; it never made the headlines with catastrophic failures, it just quietly did its thing while scientists all over the planet salivated over the intriguing observations the telescope produced.

What will eventually do it in is the fact that it will run out of super-cooled helium, the stuff that keeps it extremely cold. It simply evaporates over time since its environment is always warmer than the super-cooled helium itself.

Engineers estimate that that day will come sometime this month, and they will know when Herschel’s frigid temperatures will quite suddenly rise by several degrees. Until then, its observation schedule continues at full speed, no doubt creating many nail-biting moments for those scientists who are still lining up to use the telescope for their work, hoping to beat that inevitable event.

There is no gauge on the spacecraft to tell you exactly how much propellant is left, so there might be a bit of wiggle room in that estimate. Extra sensors are costly to install and even costlier to launch, and it’s tricky to measure volumes of gases or liquids in microgravity.  

And while observations might cease at any moment the telescope is far from done. When it shuts down it will be moved into a stable solar orbit that will prevent it from crashing into anything, and of course the science data will take many more years to be fully examined and understood.

There’s lots more information at the ESA’s Herschel pages at

Beate Czogalla is the Professor of Theater Design in the Department of Theatre and Dance at Georgia College & State University. She has had a lifelong interest in space exploration and has been a Solar System Ambassador for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory/ NASA for many years. She can be reached at   


Text Only
AP Video
Bon Jovi Helps Open Low-income Housing in Philly Pipeline Opponents Protest on National Mall Hagel Gets Preview of New High-tech Projects S.C. Man Apologizes for Naked Walk in Wal-Mart New Country Music Hall of Fame Inductees Named 'Piles' of Bodies in South Sudan Slaughter New Yorkers Celebrate Cherry Blossom Blooms SCOTUS Hears Tv-over-Internet Case Justice Dept. Broadening Criteria for Clemency Chief Mate: Crew Told to Escape After Passengers 'Miss Meadows' Takes Holmes Back to Her Roots Biden: Russia Must Stop Talking, Start Acting David Moyes Out As Manchester United Manager Raw: Leopard Bites Man in India Iowa College Finds Beauty in Bulldogs High Court to Hear Dispute of TV Over Internet Stowaway Teen Forces Review of Airport Security
Twitter Updates
Follow us on twitter

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
NDN Video
Viral: It's Not Pitbull - It's Amy Poehler! Raw: Leopard Bites Man in India Jenna Dewan-Tatum Strips Down Rise of the Milkbots TRENDING: Brian Williams Raps 'Gin and Juice' on ‘Tonight Show’ Middle School heroes rescue students from burning bus WHOPPER OF FISHING STORY: Florida man catches massive Mako shark Maks Chmerkovskiy's "DWTS" Meltdown The many faces of Mike Woodson Ape Builds A Fire And Toasts Marshmallows In Amazing BBC Video Manchester Utd sack manager David Moyes "RHOA's" Dramatic Brawl High school, College Drug Ring Busted In Montgomery County High Court to Hear Dispute of TV Over Internet Raw: Keflezighi, Jeptoo Win Boston Marathon Teen hitchhikes in wheel well of flight from California to Hawaii Lindsay Lohan's Jaw-Dropping Secret President Sends Message To Boston And Marathon Runners LA Pastor Attracts Churchgoers with Pot Lauren Stoner Shows Off Her Incredible Bikini Body