ESA's Herschel space observatory ends mission

The largest infrared space telescope ever launched runs out of vital coolant

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Credit: ESA/PACS & SPIRE Consortia, T. Hill, F. Motte, Laboratoire AIM Paris-Saclay, CEA/IRFU – CNRS/INSU – Uni. Paris Diderot, HOBYS Key Programme Consortium

Herschel set against an image of the Vela C star-forming region taken by the scope.


After almost three years of groundbreaking observations of the cool Universe, ESA’s Herschel space observatory – the largest infrared space telescope ever launched – has finally used up its supply of liquid helium coolant, bringing the mission to an abrupt, but not unexpected, end.

The space scope blasted off from the Guiana Space Centre in May 2009 with over 2,300 litres of liquid helium onboard. This coolant was vital, bringing the temperature of Herschel’s instruments close to absolute zero and allowing the space lab to make super sensitive, infrared observations of the cold Universe, areas usually obscured at visible wavelengths by vast clouds of gas and dust. However yesterday, a rise in temperature was measured in all of Herschel’s instruments indicating that the supply of this essential component had finally run out.   

During its mission Herschel made over 35,000 observations collecting over 25,000 hours worth of scientific data from hundreds of observing programmes. All of these observations will now be archived at ESA’s European Space Astronomy Centre in Spain, providing scientists with many more years worth of Herschel data to analyse. Without doubt, the legacy of ESA's pioneering space observatory will continue long after its death.


Home page image: ESA and SPIRE & PACS consortia, Ph. André (CEA Saclay) for Gould’s Belt Key Programme Consortia.
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