By Michael Banks
Here is an example of how to condense four years’ worth of space observations into just a minute.
The animation above, which was created by Pedro Gómez-Alvarez of the European Space Agency (ESA), shows a timeline of more than 37,000 scientific observations made by ESA’s Herschel Space Observatory.
The video runs from Herschel’s launch on 14 May 2009 until the infrared observatory made its last observation on 29 April 2013 as the craft’s detectors ran out of coolant.
Herschel – a far-infrared and submillimetre telescope – had two main goals: to study star formation in our galaxy; and galaxy formation across the universe.
Named after the German-born astronomer who in 1781 discovered Uranus, the probe carried a 3.5 m-diameter mirror – the largest to be deployed in space – and investigated light with wavelengths of 55–670 µm.
The craft was placed in an area of space some 1.5 million kilometres further out from the Sun beyond the Earth. Known as Lagrange point L2, it is where a space probe can usefully hover, little disturbed by stray signals from home and without having to use much fuel to keep it in position.
You can find some of the incredible images taken by Herschel at ESA’s multimedia gallery.