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Nasa to peer into universe corners

Cape Canaveral, Aug. 25 (Reuters): A new Nasa infra red observatory designed to see objects either too cold to cast their own light or obscured by interstellar dust was launched early today from Cape Canaveral Air Force station.

Lift off of the Boeing Delta II rocket carrying the $700-million satellite came at 0535 GMT.

“The expectation is to really revolutionise our understanding of our universe by looking in a completely new low length spectrum,” said Dave Gallagher, Nasa’s mission project manager.

From failed stars that never turned on, to the galaxy’s own dust-shrouded heart, the Space Infra Red Telescope Facility (SIRTF) will look into the dark, cold corners of the universe, making itself sensitive to the faintest heat signatures by cooling its own instruments to just a degree or two above absolute zero.

The telescope is the last of Nasa’s so-called Great Observatories. When combined with the Hubble Space Telescope, which sees in the visible light spectrum, and the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, astronomers will get their most complete view yet of matter and energy near the edge of the known universe.

Or, as Nasa scientist Anne Kinney explained, when all three telescopes peer deeply into space, the Chandra will see objects that are millions of degrees in temperature, the Hubble, objects that are thousands of degrees, and SIRTF, those that are hundreds of degrees.

“That way, you get a full range of information about what’s out there,” said Kinney.

SIRTF has a 35.5-inch mirror and instruments that will be kept cold by liquid helium released from an onboard tank. Nasa said there should be enough of the helium to keep the satellite operating about five years.

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