First light for Herschel June 21, 2009Posted by Sarah in new astronomy, science, space.
Tags: astronomy, esa, herschel, m51, pacs, planck
Doesn’t it seem like yesterday, that exciting day when two new astronomy satellites were blasted into space? There was Herschel, at 3.5-m the largest telescope ever launched into space, and Planck, the new cosmic miscrowave background explorer. We cheered, drank some champagne and settled into the wait until the data started coming in. Well, that day has arrived. This week ESA and the participating institutes released an early first light image from PACS, the Photodetector and Array Camera and Spectrometer, on board Herschel, taken during the telescope’s commissioning phase.
A big congrats to the Herschel telescope and instrument teams!
Herschel’s image of the Whirlpool Galaxy, M51, reveals a fantastic amount of detail in this most photogenic of spiral galaxies. The side-by-side comparison with a similar image taken with the Spitzer Space Telescope, below, at the same wavelengths shows the vast improvement in resolution astronomers can get from Herschel due to the larger mirror size.
The Herschel telescope was built to be sensitive to light, with wavelengths from around 60 to 650 microns, bridging a gap from existing infrared to submillimetre facilities. Observing the sky in the infrared allows us to study objects that aren’t hot enough to emit visible radiation, and those enshrouded in dust. Particularly interesting infrared targets are newly forming stars and budding planetary systems, embedded in dense molecular clouds, and Herschel is expected to give us much new insight into the physics of star and planet formation.
Image credit: ESA/PACS consortium (top), ESA/PACS consortium/NASA/JPL-Caltech/SINGS (bottom)