Mission Overview

Planck: Exploring the Birth of Our Universe
artist concept of Planck Artist concept of Planck. Image credit: ESA
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Planck is a European Space Agency mission with significant participation from NASA. It was launched into space from French Guiana in May of 2009, and now orbits a distant point, called the second Lagrange point of our Earth-sun system, about 1.5 million kilometers (930,000 miles) away. Planck will give us the best view yet of the early moments of cosmic history -- moments that are responsible for all we see around us today. It will make most the precise measurements to date of tiny variations in the universe's oldest light, called the cosmic microwave background, created more than 13 billion years ago. The mission will refine our estimates of the size, mass, age, composition, geometry and fate of the universe -- whether it will collapse in on itself, or expand forever.

NASA played key roles in the mission's development, and will provide important contributions to data and science analyses. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., built critical components of Planck's science instruments, including bolometers for the mission's high-frequency instrument; a 20 Kelvin cryocooler for both the low- and high-frequency instruments; and amplifier technology for the low-frequency instrument.

The U.S. Planck team will play a major role in data and science analyses, with a primary tool being the Franklin supercomputer at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center in Berkeley, Calif. One of the world's fastest computers, Franklin will handle the most computationally intensive analysis jobs for the Planck team worldwide. The team will produce a catalogue of cosmic objects, called the Early Release Compact Source Catalogue, which will be released to the public nine months after completion of the first sky survey.

The U.S. Planck team comprises scientists from JPL; the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena; the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech; University of California, Berkeley; University of California, Davis; University of California, Santa Barbara; Haverford College, Pa.; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, Calif.; Princeton University, New Jersey; University of Miami, Fla.; Stanford University, Palo Alto, Calif.; and University of Southern California, Los Angeles.