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Astro-F to probe early universe

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Astro-F is go. Photo: JAXAJapan this morning sucessfully launched its Astro-F infrared imaging surveyor from its Uchinoura Space Centre. The satellite, nicknamed "Akari" or "light" took to the skies at 06:28 local time atop an M-5 rocket.

The Astro-F's 500-day mission is to participate in the international All Sky Survey of the heavens "with much better sensitivity, spatial resolution and wider wavelength coverage" than the IRAS satellite - launched in 1983 by the Netherlands, UK and US. It's equipped with "a 68.5cm telescope cooled down to 6K, and will observe in the wavelength range from 1.7 (near-infrared) to 180 (far-infrared) microns" as the Japanese Space Agency blurb puts it.

Astro-F is in a Sun synchronous polar orbit at 745km (463 miles). It orbits the Earth "above the twilight zone" in around 100 minutes, passing over the North and South Poles.

The All Sky Survey aims to probe galaxies dating back to the earliest days of the universe. Dr Stephen Serjeant, senior lecturer in astrophysics at the UK's Open University, told the BBC: "This is a tremendous new window on the primordial Universe." ®

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