(For more information about the Herschel Space Observatory, and what it’s been doing for the past two years, check out the official UK site or some of our many, many posts about it. Picture credit: ESA, with some minor alterations by me. Oh, and don’t forget that it’s also Planck’s birthday too!)
I’m sorry but the name of the seventh planet in our Solar System always makes me giggle. This can have unfortunate consequences – I suspect my friends and I once failed the audition for a schools’ version of a TV quiz show when we couldn’t suppress our laughter. So you can imagine how I feel when I read sentences like “Uranus is too small for the Herschel satellite to see as more than a very bright point of light”.
My inability to grow up aside, Uranus is very important to the Herschel Telescope. William Herschel, after whom it is named, discovered the planet in 1781, and it has been studied extensively ever since. This makes it an excellent target for the SPIRE instrument onboard Herschel to use to calibrate its measurements of other targets, which is why it was one of the first things it observed.
Incidentally, in the picture above, the bright point of light is Uranus; the six-pointed star shape is caused by the construction of the telescope itself; and the red hazy bit comes from the optics of the telescope combined with the SPIRE camera. The faint dots in the background are all distant galaxies!
Image credit: ESA/Herschel/SPIRE