Herschel's first insight into space reveals spectacular results

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Paris, July 11 (ANI): The Herschel Space Observatory has carried out the first test observations with all its instruments, revealing spectacular results, finding water and carbon and revealing dozens of distant galaxies.

These observations show that Herschel's instruments are working beyond expectations. They promise a mission of rich discoveries for waiting astronomers.

On June 24, Herschel's Spectral and Photometric Imaging Receiver (SPIRE) was trained on two galaxies for its first look at the Universe.

The galaxies showed up prominently, providing astronomers with their best images yet at these wavelengths, and revealing other, more distant galaxies in the background of the images.

The pictures show galaxies M66 and M74 at a wavelength of 250 microns, longer than any previous infrared space observatory, but still the shortest SPIRE wavelength.

SPIRE is designed to look at star formation in our own Galaxy and in nearby galaxies. It will also search for star-forming galaxies in the very distant Universe.

Because these galaxies are so far away, their light has taken a very long time to reach us; so by detecting them, we are looking into the past and learning how and when galaxies like our own were formed.

Herschel's primary mirror is 3.5 m in diameter, nearly four times larger than any previous infrared space telescope.

These images prove that Herschel enables a giant leap forward in scientists' ability to study celestial objects at far infrared wavelengths.

Scientists used Herschel's Heterodyne Instrument for the Far-Infrared (HIFI) on June 22 to look for warm molecular gas heated by newborn massive stars in the DR21 star-forming region in Cygnus.

HIFI provided excellent data in two different observing modes, returning information on the composition of the region with unprecedented accuracy and resolution.

It works by 'zooming in' on specific wavelengths, revealing different spectral 'lines' that represent the fingerprints of atoms and molecules and even the physical conditions of the object observed.

This makes it a powerful tool to study the role of gas and dust in the formation of stars and planets and the evolution of galaxies.

Using HIFI, scientists observed ionized carbon, carbon monoxide, and water in DR21.

These different molecular lines contribute to a more complete understanding of what is happening deep in space.

The high quality of these first observations promises great new insights into the process of star formation.

Following these images, Herschel is now in the performance verification phase, where the instruments will be further tested and calibrated. (ANI)

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