Hunting Herschel!

Artist_impression_of_the_Herschel_spacecraft.jpgIn April this year, the European Space Agency space observatory, Herschel, ran out of coolant, ending its 4 year mission to observe the Universe at infrared wavelengths.

In June, mission control sent the command to the observatory to turn it off, and sent it off from its stable orbit 1.5 million km from Earth, into a path around the Sun.

On Thursday, FT Team member, Nick Howes and his colleague Ernesto Guido from the Remanzacco Observatory, decided to try and find Herschel using FTN.

This was quite a challenge as the coordinates of the satellite weren't accurately known, so once the images had been taken it was a matter of waiting to hear from the Minor Planet Centre whether the object that Nick and Ernesto had imaged was in fact the Herschel Space Observatory.

After a few hours wait, the results came back - they had indeed managed to image Herschel, and as a result, its orbit has now been calculated, therefore significantly reducing the risk of identifying it incorrectly  as a new asteroid in any future observations of the Solar Sytem.

We would now like to invite schools to see if they can spot Herschel in the images taken on FTN by making an animation of the observatory as it travels away from the Sun. The hardest part is spotting the observatory in the images because it's so faint - making the animation is easy!

Downloading the data:

1. Go to the LCOGT data archive at:
2. Type 'Herschel'  in the search box 'By Title'
3. Select 'Faulkes telescope North' for the telescope and click 'Search'
4. A results page of all images taken with the name 'Herschel' will appear. The best images for making an animation appear as the first 7 images in the results page and were taken between 11:10UT and 11:27UT on 27th June 2013.
5. Click on the thumbnail of each image. You will be taken to the page with a larger image and file link. Right click on the FITS or JPEG link under 'Data' and select 'Save Link/Target As..' to save the image to your computer.
6. Repeat step 5 for all 7 images.
7. Once you have all 7 images you can make the animation of Herschel in SalsaJ. For this, see the 'Making Animations' instructions given here (using your downloaded data files):SalsaJv2_guide.pdf

Once you have made your animation and think that you have spotted Herschel we'd love to hear from you - send us your animation and we'll upload them on here for everyone to see. Happy hunting!

(Herschel Image Credit: ESA/ AOES Medialab; background: Hubble Space Telescope image (NASA/ESA/STScI) )

User's animations/movies:


This 16 second animation and movie was made by students at College Le Monteil ASAM in France.