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Exploring the hidden Universe

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A $2bn space observatory that can study the early history of the Universe is set to be launched on Monday by Nasa.

It follows in the footsteps of the famous Hubble, Chandra and Compton observatories.

The Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF), as it is called, will detect infrared energy (heat) emitted from stars, galaxies and planets.

Astronomers will be able to study distant objects hidden by gas and dust that cannot be detected with visible light telescopes.

Young stars emerging from dusty galaxies that existed when the Universe was only about three billion years old are of particular interest.

The observatory will begin its journey into space on a Boeing Delta 2 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The launch time is currently set for the early hours of Monday.

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