The Herschel space telescope ranks among the top ten of TIME's Best Inventions of 2009, the magazine's picks for the best new gadgets and breakthrough ideas of the year. The 'Telescope for the Invisible Stars' ranks 7th.
'It's no secret that space is cold,' writes TIME in a comment on ESA's Herschel space telescope. 'But in some places, it's so frigid that light can't radiate in the visible spectrum, which makes celestial bodies invisible. Now the Herschel Space Observatory is exposing them.' HIFI, the Dutch heart of Herschel, contributes a great deal to these observations in the infrared which will shed new light on the birth of stars and planets.
Propagated as the Best Invention of 2009 is NASA's Ares 1 rocket. The editors of TIME praise Ares 1 as 'the best and smartest and coolest thing built in 2009 - a machine that can launch human beings to cosmic destinations we'd never considered before - and the fruit of a very old family tree, one with branches grand, historic and even wicked.' However, this claim is not universally shared in the world of space science, because there are doubts on the actual progress of the Ares project.
This top 50 of Best Inventions will of course be followed by a great number of other lists this december. But the position of Herschel confirms that - on the brink of saying goodbye to 2009, the International Year of Astronomy - space research still appeals to the imagination of the public.