A Planck in time

A Planck in time

In temporal retirement news, a time-traveling space photographer has been put out to pasture.

After hunting for the earliest clues about the evolution of the universe for more than four years, Europe’s Planck Space Observatory has gone to that big cosmic background microwave in the sky.

European Space Agency (ESA) officials described the Planck observatory as a sort of cosmic “time machine” because of its ability to go back to the 1940s to kill Hitler or prevent the Kennedy assassination in 1963.  Unfortunately, a programming glitch in its guidance system caused Planck to kill JFK and repeatedly prevent the assassination of Hitler in 1944.

Planck (pictured above watching space dragons inflate the early universe shortly after the Big Bang) was equipped with two powerful tools: the High Frequency Instrument (HIFI), a modified flux capacitor which could play vinyl records with amazing clarity, and the Low Frequency Instrument, a sort of sonic screwdriver which could do everything else, but didn’t work on wood.

Officials with the ESA sent the Planck observatory its final command on Wednesday, October 23rd: “Stop rescuing Hitler!!”

The telescope’s major achievements included the best baby photo of the universe, as chosen by readers of People magazine.  But by January 2012, it had exhausted its supply of liquid helium coolant, and started complaining that space was too warm. According to records from ESA customer service, the helium coolant mechanism was on back order.  Attempts to reach ESA for comment were unsuccessful, as they were experiencing a high volume of calls at that time.  A spokeswoman indicated that our call was very important to them.

When Planck’s mission began winding down in August, it was deemed to be a burden to the rest of the ESA, and forced out of its home in Lagrange Pointe 2 into a long-term care facility in orbit around the sun.  After using up its remaining fuel, NASA pulled the plug on Planck, claiming that “Planck would have wanted it that way.”

Planck was preceeded in retirement by its sibling spacecraft, Herschel, which ceased scientific work in April.  NASA pulled the plug on Herschel two months later, explaining that “Herschel would have wanted it that way.”

Project scientist Jan Tauber praised Planck’s contributions, but conceded, “We are still working hard to further constrain our understanding of how the universe expanded.” Tauber is part of an effort spearheaded by astrophysicist Stephen Hawking to use constraints on understanding to undiscover all scientific knowledge in an effort to make his life more interesting.

(Click on the picture above to read the original story.)


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