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2 October 2009
Herschel has delivered spectacular vistas of cold gas clouds lying near the plane of the Milky Way, revealing intense, unexpected activity. The dark, cool region is dotted with stellar factories, like pearls on a cosmic string.
On 3 September, Herschel aimed its telescope at a reservoir of cold gas in the constellation of the Southern Cross near the Galactic Plane. As the telescope scanned the sky, the spacecraft’s Spectral and Photometric Imaging REceiver, SPIRE, and Photoconductor Array Camera and Spectrometer, PACS instruments snapped the pictures. The region is located about 60° from the Galactic Centre, thousands of light-years from Earth.
Three-colour far-infrared image of M51, the ‘whirlpool galaxy’.
Red, green and blue correspond to the 160-micron, 100-micron and 70-micron wavelength bands of the Herschel’s Photoconductor Array Camera and Spectrometer, PACS.
Glowing light from clouds of dust and gas around and between the stars is visible clearly. These clouds are a reservoir of raw material for ongoing star formation in this galaxy. Blue indicates regions of warm dust that is heated by young stars, while the colder dust shows up in red.
Herschel is set to revolutionise our understanding of the Universe. A versatile infrared space telescope, Herschel's main objective is to study relatively cool objects across the Universe; in particular, the formation and evolution of stars and galaxies and the relationship between the two.