Science observations have begun in earnest for the Herschel Space Telescope, and this spectacular image is the first produced by combining data from two cameras aboard Herschel, the Spectral and Photometric Imaging REceiver (SPIRE), and the Photoconductor Array Camera and Spectrometer (PACS). It shows a tumultuous region in the Southern Cross, visible only because the instruments are tuned to “see” in five different infrared wavelengths. Stunning vistas of cold gas clouds lying near the plane of the Milky Way reveal intense, unexpected activity. The dark, cool region is dotted with stellar factories, like pearls on a cosmic string.
Herschel, one of the largest telescopes in space, was launched in May. For this image, the two instruments were aimed at an area in the plane of the Milky Way about 60° from its center. It covers around 16 times the area of the Full Moon as seen in the sky.
The images were taken on September 3, 2009 during the first trial run with the two instruments working together. Herschel will go on to survey large areas of our galaxy.
The five original infrared wavelengths have been color-coded to allow scientists to differentiate extremely cold material (red) from the surrounding, slightly warmer stuff (blue).
The images reveal structure in cold material in our Galaxy, as we have never seen it before, and even before a detailed analysis, scientists have gleaned information on the quantity of the material, its mass, temperature, composition and whether it is collapsing to form new stars.
Beautiful evidence that our galaxy keeps giving birth to new generations of stars!