Royal Astronomical Society awards the 2018 Group Achievement Award to the Planck Team

The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) has awarded the 2018 Group Achievement Award to the Planck team (see citation below). The Planck satellite was launched by the European Space Agency (ESA) in 2009 and successfully operated until early 2013 when its supply of liquid helium was exhausted.

Artist's impression of the Planck spacecraft (Image credit: ESA/AOES Medialab)
Artist's impression of the Planck spacecraft (Image credit: ESA/AOES Medialab)

The space telescope used the most sensitive detectors at frequencies between 30 GHz and 850 GHz and mapped the microwave/sub-mm sky with exquisite sensitivity and higher resolution than had previously been attained. The data have revolutionized cosmology by mapping the anisotropies in the cosmic microwave background (CMB), the radiation left over from the Big Bang approximately 13.8 billion years ago; see Fig. 1. In turn, this has allowed several crucial cosmological parameters to be constrained to ~1-2% precision, including the densities of baryonic and cold dark matter, spatial curvature, and the current expansion rate of the Universe (the Hubble constant). So far, the Planck data have reconfirmed the validity of the so-called “ΛCDM” cosmological model, where the Universe is dominated by dark energy and dark matter, to a precision of 1-2% in most parameters. Planck data have also revolutionized our view of the Universe at these wavelengths, which until now, had not been mapped. Highlights include the detection of the cosmic infrared background from galaxies at high redshift, the detection of over 1200 galaxy clusters of which approximately half where unknown before, detections of thousands of cold dust starless clumps in the interstellar medium, and the first measurement of the complete spectrum of thermal dust emission. The results have been published in over 150 papers since 2009. A final release of papers from the Planck team is expected in March 2018 although the data will be analysed and used for years to come.

Planck Satellite - CMB

The Planck mission has produced the most detailed map of the cosmic microwave background radiation, from which key cosmological parameters have been recalculated to high precision.

The Planck team, consisting of over 800 scientists and engineers, have been working on this experiment since the early 1990s. The Manchester team, based at the Jodrell Bank Observatory (JBO) and Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics (JBCA), has contributed greatly to the success of Planck, both in terms of hardware and in the analysis/scientific exploitation. Indeed, the late Prof Rodney Davies (JBO director 1988-1997) was one of the key people who formed the Planck collaboration and suggested the basic design concept, which was essentially a combination of two satellite concepts called COBRAS and SAMBAS; Fig. 2 shows the first Planck consortium meeting held in Tenerife. Prof Davies was also the chair of the working group for Galactic and Solar System science (WG7), which became a major part of Planck’s results and overall success.

For the Planck hardware the team at JBO, led by the late Prof Richard J. Davis OBE and Dr Althea Wilkinson, designed and built the Front End Modules (FEMs) housing the low noise detectors for the 30 and 44 GHz channels of Planck – still the most sensitive ever made at these frequencies. The team (see Table 1) had a steep learning curve to learn how to build space-qualified hardware. The hardware was critical to Planck’s success, often performing better than the specification demanded. At this time JBO became one of the world leaders in designing and building the best low-noise amplifiers at radio and microwave frequencies.

Planck Consortium meeting, Izana Observatory, Tenerife, October 1997

Planck Consortium meeting, Izana Observatory, Tenerife, October 1997. The Planck proposal developed from the COBRAS concept published in 1995. Prof Rod Davies (top right in this photo) was the lead organiser and was instrumental in the development of the Planck project.

Throughout the operations (2009-2013) and scientific exploitation (2009-present day) the Manchester group, now primary based at JBCA, has contributed greatly to Planck’s success on many fronts – too many to list here! More than a dozen papers were led by Manchester scientists/engineers with contributions to dozens more papers. Table 1 lists key Planck team members from Manchester and their main involvement with the Planck mission.

"The Planck team has achieved an extraordinary level of precision in measuring the oldest light in the universe, breaking new ground in areas ranging from fundamental physics, Galactic astronomy and cosmology. By building such a powerful and sensitive space telescope to create state-of-the-art maps of the microwave sky, the Planck team has made the most precise determination of the age, composition and shape of the universe.

This also includes the most accurate test of the standard cosmological model, with an order of magnitude improvement on measurements of the microwave background fluctuations. The Planck team has provided exquisite maps of our own Galaxy at 30 GHz –1 THz, revealing new insights into cold clouds, anomalous microwave background emission, and the large- scale distribution of the different components of our interstellar medium.

Planck has been transformative precisely due its unprecedented precision. This award recognizes the large and international team of scientists and engineers who have been essential to its success.

For these reasons, the Planck team is awarded the Group Achievement Award." - Royal Astronomical Society



Prof Richard Battye

Cosmological parameters, SZ cosmology, modified gravity

Mr Colin Baines

LFI hardware, testing, cryogenics

Mr Eddie Blackhurst

LFI LNA design and construction

Dr Anna Bonaldi

Component separation, diffuse foregrounds, SZ cosmology

Dr Michael Brown

Planck SZ follow-up observations with AMI telescope

Mr Martyn Butlin

LFI FEM testing

Dr Jens Chluba

Cosmological parameters & reionization

Prof Rodney Davies*

WG7 chair, leadership/originator, diffuse foregrounds

Prof Richard Davis*

LFI FEMs (PI), leadership, editorial board, diffuse foregrounds

Prof Clive Dickinson

WG7 chair, diffuse foregrounds, component separation

Mr John Edgley

LNA power supplies

Mr Adrian Galtress

LFI FEMs design and drawings

Prof Danielle George

LFI LNA/FEM design

Miss Morag Hastie

Scanning strategies, polarization calibration

Dr Tess Jaffe

Galactic magnetic field, diffuse foregrounds

Mr Don Lawson

LFI FEM testing

Dr Paddy Leahy

LFI operations, calibration, LFI data analysis, diffuse foregrounds

Dr Stuart Lowe

LFI operations, ground calibration, operational monitoring software

Dr Yin-Zhe Ma

Cosmological parameters, inflation, kinetic SZ effect

Dr Bruno Maffei

HFI optical design

Dr Mike Peel

Diffuse foregrounds, Andromeda Galaxy

Dr Mathieu Remazeilles

Component separation, Planck products (CMB, SZ, CIB, thermal dust)

Dr Neil Roddis

RF engineer, LFI LNA/FEM design

Mr Darren Shepherd

LFI FEM design and drawings

Dr Matias Vidal

Diffuse foregrounds

Dr Robert Watson

LFI calibration & data analysis, diffuse foregrounds

Dr Althea Wilkinson

LFI FEMs, diffuse Galactic foregrounds.

Dr Frank Winder

RF engineer, LFI LNA/FEM testing

Dr Helen Yates

Testing engineer, ground calibration

Table 1. Manchester scientists and engineers involved in Planck (bold names are those still involved at Manchester). *Deceased.

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