London: The European Space Agency (ESA) has released a preview of the first science results from the Herschel Space Observatory, which would provide valuable new information about how stars and galaxies are made and reveal the life cycle of the cosmos.
The new data includes images of previously invisible stardust, which is the stuff that all life is made from.
According to Professor Keith Mason, Chief Executive of the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), which provides the UK funding for Herschel, “These results are extremely impressive and are an indication of the excellent science that Herschel, including SPIRE instrument, will perform over the next few years.”
“We’re very proud of the technology and expertise that the UK has contributed to this groundbreaking mission,” he said.
“The Herschel Science Demonstration meeting is what the SPIRE team has been looking forward to since the start of the project more than a decade ago, and the results being presented are even better than we dared hope before launch,” said Professor Matt Griffin, SPIRE Principle Investigator.
“Not only are the observatory and the instrument working very well, but it is already clear that in this unexplored region of the spectrum, the Universe is even more interesting than we thought,” he added.
One image shows a three-color composite of a region of star formation in the constellation of Aquila around 1000 light-years from Earth.
In the image, the red shows light at 500 microns detected by SPIRE, while green and blue are light at 170 microns and 70 microns respectively, as measured by PACS.
The size of the area imaged is around 60 light-years per side, and shows the large filaments of cold dust (seen as red and orange) threading through the region.
The many blue regions are warmer, emitting more at shorter wavelengths, and show where the gas and dust is either collapsing under gravity to form stars, or where it has already collapsed and formed a protostar (the earliest stages of a star’s life).
According to Professor Derek Ward-Thompson, of Cardiff University and a member of the Gould Belt Key Project, for which this image was taken, “The insight into the way stars are forming that is provided by this image is absolutely fantastic, and I can’t wait to see the rest of the data we’re going to receive over the coming months.”