Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Herschel Images Promise Bright Future For Astronomy

Date:
July 13, 2009
Source:
European Space Agency
Summary:
Herschel has carried out the first test observations with all its instruments, with spectacular results. Galaxies, star-forming regions and dying stars comprised the telescope's first targets. The instruments provided spectacular data at their first attempt, finding water, carbon and revealing dozens of distant galaxies.

M74 (also known as NGC 628) is a face-on spiral galaxy located about 24 million light years from Earth in the constellation Pisces. The infrared SPIRE images trace the cold dust between the stars, clearly showing the galaxy's spiral structure. They also contain many faint dots that are actually distant galaxies. These galaxies contain dust that radiates at infrared wavelengths, but because they are much further away, we cannot see the structure in the galaxies.
Credit: ESA and the SPIRE consortium

Herschel has carried out the first test observations with all its instruments, with spectacular results. Galaxies, star-forming regions and dying stars comprised the telescope’s first targets. The instruments provided spectacular data at their first attempt, finding water, carbon and revealing dozens of distant galaxies.

These observations show that Herschel’s instruments are working beyond expectations. They promise a mission of rich discoveries for waiting astronomers.

SPIRE surprises with power

On 24 June, Herschel’s Spectral and Photometric Imaging Receiver (SPIRE) was trained on two galaxies for its first look at the Universe. The galaxies showed up prominently, providing astronomers with their best images yet at these wavelengths, and revealing other more distant galaxies in the background of the images.

The pictures show galaxies M66 and M74 at a wavelength of 250 microns, longer than any previous infrared space observatory, but still the shortest SPIRE wavelength.

SPIRE is designed to look at star formation in our own Galaxy and in nearby galaxies. It will also search for star-forming galaxies in the very distant Universe. Because these galaxies are so far away, their light has taken a very long time to reach us, so by detecting them we are looking into the past and learning how and when galaxies like our own were formed.

Herschel’s primary mirror is 3.5 m in diameter, nearly four times larger than any previous infrared space telescope. These images prove that it represents a giant leap forward in our ability to study celestial objects at far infrared wavelengths.

Spitzer primarily observes shorter infrared wavelengths than Herschel, so the two telescopes complement each other.

These observations were all made on the first day that SPIRE was used. They clearly show that the main scientific studies planned with the instrument are going to work extremely well.

Water-hunter HIFI scores at first try

Scientists used Herschel’s Heterodyne Instrument for the Far-Infrared (HIFI) on 22 June to look for warm molecular gas heated by newborn massive stars in the DR21 star-forming region in Cygnus.

HIFI provided excellent data in two different observing modes, returning information on the composition of the region with unprecedented accuracy and resolution. It works by ‘zooming in’ on specific wavelengths, revealing different spectral ‘lines’ that represent the fingerprints of atoms and molecules and even the physical conditions of the object observed. This makes it a powerful tool to study the role of gas and dust in the formation of stars and planets and the evolution of galaxies.

Using HIFI, scientists observed ionised carbon, carbon monoxide, and water in DR21. These different molecular lines add their pieces to a more complete understanding of what is happening.

The high quality of these first observations promises great new insights into the process of star formation.

PACS stares into the Cat’s Eye

The first observation with the Photodetector Array Camera and Spectrometer (PACS) instrument was carried out on 23 June.

The first target was the dying star known as the Cat's Eye Nebula. Discovered by William Herschel in 1786, this nebula consists of a complex shell of gas thrown off by a dying star. Dying stars create spectacular nebulae, enriching the interstellar medium with heavy chemical elements. But how does an initially spherical star produce such a complex nebula? To solve this question we need to look at the processes close to the star, where the matter is ejected.

With the PACS spectrometer it is now possible for the first time to make images in spectral lines for on the sky, and see how the wind from the star shapes the nebula in three dimensions. The PACS spectrometer was used to look into the Cat’s eye. This mode records the composition and condition of celestial objects at precisely defined wavelengths.

PACS observed the nebula in two spectral lines from ionised nitrogen and oxygen.  For better orientation, the PACS photometer took a small map of the Cat’s Eye Nebula in its 70 micron band, showing the structure of a dust ring with an opening on one side.   

Following these first light images, Herschel is now in the performance verification phase, where the instruments will be further tested and calibrated. This phase will last until the end of November, after which the mission will begin its routine science phase. These images show that there is a lot of science to look forward to.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by European Space Agency. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

European Space Agency. "Herschel Images Promise Bright Future For Astronomy." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 July 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/07/090710101450.htm>.
European Space Agency. (2009, July 13). Herschel Images Promise Bright Future For Astronomy. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 16, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/07/090710101450.htm
European Space Agency. "Herschel Images Promise Bright Future For Astronomy." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/07/090710101450.htm (accessed September 16, 2014).

Share This



More Space & Time News

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

East Coast Treated To Rare Meteor Sighting

East Coast Treated To Rare Meteor Sighting

Newsy (Sep. 16, 2014) — Numerous residents along the East Coast reported seeing a bright meteor flash through the sky Sunday night. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Space Race Pits Bezos Vs Musk

Space Race Pits Bezos Vs Musk

Reuters - Business Video Online (Sep. 16, 2014) — Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' startup will team up with Boeing and Lockheed to develop rocket engines as Elon Musk races to have his rockets certified. Fred Katayama reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
NASA’s Curiosity Rover Finally Reaches Long-Term Goal

NASA’s Curiosity Rover Finally Reaches Long-Term Goal

Newsy (Sep. 15, 2014) — After more than two years, NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover reached Mount Sharp, its long-term destination. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
SpaceX's Elon Musk Really Wants To Colonize Mars

SpaceX's Elon Musk Really Wants To Colonize Mars

Newsy (Sep. 14, 2014) — Elon Musk has been talking about his goal of colonizing Mars for years now, but how much of it does he actually have figured out, and is it possible? Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

    Environment News

      Technology News



      Save/Print:
      Share:  

      Free Subscriptions


      Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

      Get Social & Mobile


      Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

      Have Feedback?


      Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
      Mobile iPhone Android Web
      Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
      Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
      Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins