HIFI, the largest and most sophisticated instrument ever built by the Netherlands sits at the heart of the Herschel Space Observatory, the largest space telescope ever launched. Herschel will observe aspects of the Universe that have never before been explored.
From energy-generation at the heart of galaxies to the formation of stars and galaxies to physical and chemical processes in the gas and dust not yet bound to stars and planets, Herschel will shed light on key aspects of our Universe. Herschel’s Heterodyne Instrument for the Far Infrared (HIFI), one of three instruments situated at the focal point of the huge mirror, is the most advanced space instrument ever built in the Netherlands. Because of its highly accurate spectrometry, HIFI will obtain information about the chemical composition, kinematics, and physical environment of infrared light sources and address many key questions in modern astrophysics. With thousands of sub-millimeter wavelength observations, HIFI will provide new insight into the origin and evolution of the molecular universe, star forming regions with proto-planetary disks around new stars, the out-gassing and complex organic molecules found in the atmosphere of comets, vertical water distribution in the Giants of our solar system and on Mars, and even distant, possibly primordial, galaxies.
The Netherlands and Herschel
The Netherlands had not only a lead role in the creation of HIFI, but also contributed essential design components without which the Herschel Space Observatory never would have been possible. Dutch Space delivered solar panels as well as the satellite’s guidance system. Satellite Services contributed the data relay system. TNO contributed the innovative optical design. Mecon Engineering was responsible for mechanical design, resulting in an ultra-high stiffness to mass ratio. The Delft University of Technology developed ultra-sensitive nano-sensors, improving HIFI’s observation accuracy. SRON was responsible for the overall design of the HIFI-instrument, ensuring that the varying and complex inputs to HIFI successfully came together and met the project’s rigorous requirements to form the Netherlands’ largest space instrument ever. Scientists at SRON now also lead the analysis and use of the data HIFI gathers in space.