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Researchers at seven UK institutions are working with the European Space Agency and other international partners on the Herschel and Planck missions, which are set to revolutionise our knowledge of the Universe. The two missions will look at light usually blocked by the Earth's atmosphere. Planck will look at the cosmic microwave background, the relic of the big bang, and how the evolution of the universe has left an imprint on it. Herschel will look at the birth of galaxies and stars, and the building blocks of the planetary systems forming today. Significant components of the satellites and instruments were built and tested in the UK, and the UK participation was funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council.

"Herschel and Planck will transform what we know about the universe today," says Chris North of the University of Cardiff. "These missions will provide a significantly different view of our universe, one we have never had the opportunity to see before in such detail."

The human eye can only view a tiny fraction of the electromagnetic spectrum, limiting the information we can obtain about the universe. The missions will view the universe in infrared, sub-millimetre and millimetre wavelengths to provide unprecedented resolution and accuracy.

"These missions will try to answer some of the biggest questions humans have ever asked, such as 'what is the universe made of?' or 'how did the galaxy, our sun and the Earth all form?" says Chris.

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Chris North of Cardiff University gave a short lunchtime talk on the Herschel and Planck missions - listen to it online, now.

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