Science News
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Data from outer space open new frontiers for researchers

Date:
December 1, 2009
Source:
McMaster University
Summary:
The latest data delivered back to Earth by the Herschel Space Observatory -- launched in May by the European Space Agency -- have opened a new window on galaxies.
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This artist’s impression shows the fairing of the Ariane 5 being ejected, with Herschel visible on top of Planck.
Credit: ESA / Image by AOES Medialab

The latest data delivered back to Earth by the Herschel Space Observatory (HSO) -- launched in May by the European Space Agency -- has opened a new window on galaxies for researchers at McMaster University.

Herschel, the largest infrared telescope ever launched, is designed to study some of the coldest objects in space, located deep in a region of the electromagnetic spectrum that is still largely unexplored.

Its massive one-piece mirror, which is almost one-and-a-half times larger than Hubble's, is delivering sharper images of the stars with coverage of a wider wavelength spectrum. This new data is providing astronomers with a better understanding of the composition, temperature, density and mass of interstellar gas and dust -- the fuel for star formation -- in nearby galaxies and star-forming clouds.

"Herschel is creating excitement not only in the scientific community, but the general public as well," says Chris Wilson, a professor in the Department of Physics & Astronomy at McMaster University. "We are really entering a golden age for astronomy. "

Wilson is the principal researcher on one of the Herschel projects, Physical Processes in the Interstellar Medium of Very Nearby Galaxies, which involves a team of scientists from seven countries. They are examining the closest examples of every type of galaxy they can find to study the properties of the gas in the galaxies and determine how the properties of the gas relate to star formation.

"The far-infrared wavelengths probed by Herschel are absolutely crucial for understanding the physical processes and properties of the interstellar medium. This remains poorly understood, but we are getting a clearer picture of the wider environment in galaxies," says Wilson.

Scientists from institutes and universities around the world will be able to use Herschel for approximately four years, at which time it is expected to run out of liquid helium to keep its sensitive instruments cold. NASA and the Canadian Space Agency participated in the construction of Herschel.


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


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McMaster University. "Data from outer space open new frontiers for researchers." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 December 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/12/091201100547.htm>.
McMaster University. (2009, December 1). Data from outer space open new frontiers for researchers. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 25, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/12/091201100547.htm
McMaster University. "Data from outer space open new frontiers for researchers." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/12/091201100547.htm (accessed April 25, 2015).

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