The telescopes will give European scientists powerful new tools to look at some of the basic questions we all wonder about when we look at stars and galaxies millions of kilometers away.
Goran Pilbratt is project scientist for one of the telescopes, called Herschel.
"We may learn a lot more about how stars like the sun formed and when they formed," said Goran Pilbratt. "[How] planets like our own planet formed. So star formation is a very big thing for Herschel."
If the operation is successful, Pilbratt says, the Herschel telescope will also try to answer other questions.
"Astronomers talk about structure formation in the universe, how did the universe get its large-scale structure that we can see today? And here is the second very important part about where Herschel can contribute a lot," he said. "Nobody else has been able to observe, with the detail that we can, the infrared emission from galaxies."
Those infrared emissions will allow the telescope to peer through cosmic dust and gas to see things like the evolution of early stars and galaxies. Scientists also want to learn more about mysterious dark matter and energy, and whether the universe will expand forever.
The other telescope, known as Planck, will study temperature variations from the very early universe.
The two telescopes are being launched from French Guyana for a total cost of more than $2 billion. If all goes well, scientists hope Herschel will be working for three years, and the Planck telescope for about 15 months.
The French launch coincides with the anticipated spacewalk of U.S. Astronauts John Grunsfeld and Drew Feustel who are expected to exit the space Shuttle Atlantis for the first of five spacewalks to upgrade Hubble telescope. They will replace the telescope's 15-year-old workhorse camera with one that sees deeper into the universe.
14 May 2009