Bruce Partridge with a model of the Planck satellite in 2006.
Professor's Research Takes Flight With Launch of Planck Satellite
The European Space Agency’s much-anticipated launch of the Planck satellite on Thursday, May 14, may be the first step towards answering some of scientists’ most pressing questions about the universe. And Emeritus Professor of Astronomy Bruce Partridge will be watching live, from the European space port in Kourou, French Guiana (on the north end of South America) at 9:12 a.m. Eastern time. It’s only fitting, since Partridge has been an integral part of the satellite’s research team for 16 years, and, in fact, helped draft the initial proposal for the mission.
The Planck’s goal is to map the entire sky and measure the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), heat radiation left over from the Big Bang. “There are small fluctuations in the brightness of this heat radiation from place to place on the sky,” says Partridge. “Careful measurements of these bumps and wiggles offer the best clues we have to important cosmological issues, like the curvature of space, the age of the universe, and the nature of its contents.
“More than 40 years ago,” Partridge reflects, “a Princeton colleague and I searched for these CMB fluctuations, using a cheap assemblage of surplus military components. It’s a delight, towards the end of my career, to be part of a project far more sophisticated (and 50,000 times more costly) that should give us unprecedented sharp ‘baby pictures’ of the early universe. I can’t wait to get to work on the results!”
Partridge has been involved in various aspects of the satellite since its inception. For the past six years, he has been co-leader of a working group on foreground radio sources, which he defines as “any radio-emitting galaxies found between us and the edge of the universe.” Planck, he adds, will provide the first wide area survey of extragalactic radio sources at a broad range of unexplored frequencies. Postdoctoral research associate and Haverford astronomy instructor Anna Sajina has just begun working with Partridge and his team, deciphering the properties of the kind of radio sources Planck will detect.
The Planck’s launch vehicle is called Ariane 5, and is, says Partridge, the largest European rocket in existence. The Planck, accompanied by a larger satellite called Herschel, will eventually settle in a stable position one million miles from Earth, opposite the sun.
The launch will be broadcast live at www.videocorner.tv.
To read more Haverford coverage of Bruce Partridge and the Planck satellite, go to www.haverford.edu/newsletter/feb06/partridge.htm.