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More success for Herschel July 11, 2009

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After the early sneak preview from the PACS instrument on board the recently launched Herschel infrared space telescope, more images have now been released from its other instruments, SPIRE and HIFI. The above image shows images taken with the IR imager and spectrometer SPIRE of nearby galaxy M74 at 250 micron. The amount of detail visible in the images is really great, particularly as all the image reconstruction software hasn’t even been optimised yet. We may be very used to seeing spectacularly detailed images from Hubble, but achieving these resolutions at Herschel’s far-infrared wavelengths is very new. (more…)

NTT snaps the Omega Nebula July 7, 2009

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This beautiful picture of the Omega Nebula (M17) was release today by ESO. It’s a three-colour composite image taken with the 3.6-m New Technology Telescope at ESO’s La Silla site in Chile. The nebula is a region of active star formation, one of the youngest and nearest to our solar system. A recent paper by Matthew Povich and collaborators reported over 90 candidate newborn stars in the region at varying stages of starbirth. Energetic radiation from hot young stars is exciting and lighting up the gas in the nebula.

The Povich paper contains a complete description of this hotbed of star formation at wavelengths from the radio to X-ray and is an excellent reference if you wold like to learn more.

Image credit: ESO

APOD: Earth’s changing distance to the Sun July 4, 2009

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Today, the 4th of July, the Earth’s elliptical orbit takes our planet to its farthest point from the Sun (‘aphelion‘). This composite image demonstrates nicely how this causes the Sun to appear just a tad smaller in the sky compared with the perihelion size, at the closest approach.

Image credit: E.L. Cervigon

Stellar Citizen Science June 23, 2009

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Historical eclipse measurements of epsilon Aurigae

Historical eclipse measurements of epsilon Aurigae

Over at Professor Astronomy, Kurtis recently talked about an excellent citizen science project to light on the nature of mysterious variable star epsilon Aurigae. For almost 200 years, this run-of-the-mill star has been seen to dim periodically. This is not particularly remarkable in se – many stars dim at regular intervals, typically every few days, due to a companion star or planet passing in front of it. But in the case of epsilon Aurigae, the dip in its lightcurve occurs every 27 years and lasts several hundred days – around 2 years! The eclipse lightcurve (above) also shows that the dip contains quite a few bumps. So whatever movement is causing the eclipse is very very slow, and some interaction between the two bodies appears to be going on.  (more…)

First light for Herschel June 21, 2009

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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!

Update 11/07/09: Watch a video of the Herschel/PACS team as they receive the beautiful picture of M51 from the telescope, here. Great stuff!