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Looking Back and Looking Forward

Looking Back and Looking Forward

20 December 2007

2007 has been another year of scientific discovery. Every one of the science missions in operation has produced new results in many fields of astronomy.

The International Heliophysical Year has been marked by a number of science observations from ESA's fleet of Sun monitoring spacecraft. Alongside the serendipitous observation of a new periodic comet, SOHO observations of coronal mass ejections have revealed radio pulses which can give warning of high intensity solar storms.

Ulysses made its third pass over the south pole, and will pass the north pole again in 2008. Ulysses has now made observations throughout the entire 11-year solar cycle and well into the 22-year Hale cycle and the associated reversal of the solar magnetic field.

Although 2007 saw the loss of one of the Double Star spacecraft, the results of combined observations with Cluster is continuing to reveal more information about the nature and impact of the magnetic fields around the Earth.

In Solar System exploration the Rosetta spacecraft had successful flybys of Mars and Earth and is on course to flyby asteroid Steins in September 2008. The planetary explorers of Mars and Venus Express continue to produce new discoveries of our planetary neighbours. On Venus many of the results have focused on the complex and dynamic nature of the planet's atmosphere. While on Mars a high resolution topographical map is steadily being built up over time.

The three observatories of Hubble, XMM-Newton and INTEGRAL have produced a steady flow of new results and observations. From Hubble there was one of the first results in the search for dark matter; XMM saw the release of 2nd catalogue of x-ray sources, the largest of its kind; and INTEGRAL scientists revealed for the first time the detection of a 60Fe emission line with implications on models of stellar evolution.

In 2008 ...

2008 will see the launch of the Herschel-Planck mission.

Herschel is an infrared observatory and contains the largest mirror ever flown in space.  One of the primary goals of the mission is to look back into the era of galaxy formation and help astronomers understand how galaxies have evolved.  Other goals include: investigations into the formation of stars by using infrared to peer through the cool dust clouds which surround protostars; observing the chemical composition of the atmospheres and surfaces of comets, planets and satellites; and to investigate the molecular chemistry of the universe.

Planck will map the Cosmic Microwave Background, the remnant afterglow of the big bang, at improved sensitivity and angular resolution.  The observation will help scientists tackle the most fundamental questions: how did the universe begin, how did it evolve into its current state and how will it evolve in the future.

In addition Cosmic Vision programme, the selection of the next generation of science missions, will continue. 2007 saw an initial selection of 8 missions for further study. The initial assessment of those missons will be concluded early in 2008 before more detailed studies are carried over the course of the year.

Last Update: 1 September 2019
30-Sep-2023 06:10 UT

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