Gallery: ESA Planck Observatory

Seeing the big bang

Planck Observatory Image 1

Launched along with the Herschel Space Observatory in May, the European Space Agency's Planck Observatory will study the radiation left over from the first 370,000 years after the big bang--known as the cosmic microwave background, or CMB--with three times the sharpness of previous satellites.

Planck Observatory Image 2

To detect the temperature differences in the CMB as small as millionths of a degree (the equivalent of detecting the body heat of a rabbit on the moon, from Earth), Planck uses two devices, one for high frequencies and one for low.

Planck Observatory Image 3

A 3-D rendition of the Planck Observatory. To keep the satellite's own heat from skewing its observations, Planck's instruments were cooled in several stages after reaching orbit; now, at -459.49°F, Planck's High Frequency Instrument is the coldest known object in space.

Planck Observatory Image 4

By reading the CMB more accurately than ever before, scientists hope to answer thorny cosmic questions, such as how much of the universe is made of dark matter.

Planck Observatory Image 5

A scientist peeks inside at the Planck satellite.

Planck Observatory Image 6

The Planck Observatory's mirror.

Planck Observatory Image 6

Assembling the satellite.