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MPE News July 20, 2010

A&A Special Issue about Herschel science

This week, Astronomy & Astrophysics is publishing a special feature devoted to the first science results obtained with the Herschel space observatory. It includes 152 articles dealing with various subjects based on the first few months of science observing. A few papers describe the observatory and its instruments including PACS, which has been designed and built by a consortium of institutes and university departments from across Europe under the leadership of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, Garching. The majority of contributions to this special issue are dedicated to observations of many astronomical targets from bodies in the Solar System to distant galaxies.

Herschel image of an area in the stellar nursery of the constellation of Aquila .
Credit: ESA/SPIRE & PACS/P. André

The prime science objectives of Herschel are intimately connected to the physics of and processes in the interstellar medium (ISM) in the widest sense. The 'Great Observatory Origins Deep Survey' (GOODS), a field that has been observed by many telescopes in a range of wavelengths, has now also been observed by Herschel/SPIRE in submillimetre wavelengths. This area of sky is ideal for observing deep into space, where very distant galaxies can be seen as they were three to ten billion years ago when star formation was very more widespread throughout the Universe.

Herschel has also imaged (see Fig.) a stellar nursery around 1000 light-years away in the constellation Aquila (the Eagle). Thanks to Herschel's great sensitivity at the longest infrared wavelengths, astronomers were able to take their first picture inside this cloud. Using Herschel's PACS and SPIRE instruments at the same time, the image shows two bright regions where large new-born stars are causing hydrogen gas to shine. Embedded in the dusty filaments are 700 condensations of dust and gas that will eventually become stars. Observing these stellar nurseries is a key programme for Herschel, which aims to uncover the demographics of star formation and its origins, or in other words, the quantities of stars that can form and the range of masses for these new-born stars.

With the Herschel/HIFI spectral instrument, scientists can study the spectral richness of regions of star and planet formation, identifying both known organic molecules but also new compounds. This harbours the promise of a deep understanding of the chemistry of space once the complete spectral surveys are available.

external link Full A&A Press Release

external link Table of contents of the A&A special issue

external link Pages of the PACS-Project at MPE

internal link Dr. Hannelore Hämmerle
Press Officer
Max-Planck-Institut für extraterrestrische Physik
phone: +49 89 30000-3980
email: hanneh@mpe.mpg.de
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