Data from Herschel to shed new light on star formation in nearby galaxies

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Washington, December 2 (ANI): The latest data delivered back to Earth by the Herschel Space Observatory (HSO) is providing astronomers with a better understanding of the composition, temperature, density and mass of interstellar gas and dust-the fuel for star formation-in nearby galaxies and star-forming clouds.

Herschel, the largest infrared telescope ever launched, is designed to study some of the coldest objects in space, located deep in a region of the electromagnetic spectrum that is still largely unexplored.

Its massive one-piece mirror, which is almost one-and-a-half times larger than Hubble's, is delivering sharper images of the stars with coverage of a wider wavelength spectrum.

This new data is providing astronomers with a better understanding of the composition, temperature, density and mass of interstellar gas and dust, which is the fuel for star formation.

"Herschel is creating excitement not only in the scientific community, but the general public as well," said Chris Wilson, a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at McMaster University in Canada.

"We are really entering a golden age for astronomy," he added.

The team of scientists, from seven countries, is examining the closest examples of every type of galaxy they can find to study the properties of the gas in the galaxies and determine how the properties of the gas relate to star formation.

"The far-infrared wavelengths probed by Herschel are absolutely crucial for understanding the physical processes and properties of the interstellar medium. This remains poorly understood, but we are getting a clearer picture of the wider environment in galaxies," said Wilson.

Scientists from institutes and universities around the world will be able to use Herschel for approximately four years, at which time it is expected to run out of liquid helium to keep its sensitive instruments cold. (ANI)

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