G49 FilamentThis image shows a filament of dust and gas called G49. It contains 80,000 Suns’ worth of mass and measures about 280 light-years long by roughly 5 light-years across. It’s about 18,000 light-years away.

In this false-color image taken by the Herschel space observatory, longer-wavelength light has been assigned visible colors. Light with wavelengths of 70 µm is blue, 160 µm light is green. 350 µm light is red. The cooler gas seen in red and yellow is quite cold, as low as -252 C.

Image Credit: ESA

Herschel’s View of the Horsehead Nebula

Horsehead_Nebula (Herschel)

ZoomHorseHeadThis image from ESA’s Herschel space observatory shows the Horsehead Nebula in the context of its surroundings. The image is a composite of the infrared wavelengths of 70 µm (blue), 160 µm (green) and 250 µm (red), and covers 4.5 x 1.5 degrees of the night sky.

The Horsehead Nebula is in the constellation Orion about 1300 light-years away and is part of the vast Orion Molecular Cloud complex. The Horsehead appears to rise above the surrounding gas and dust in the far right-hand side of this scene, and points towards the bright Flame Nebula. Intense radiation streaming away from newborn stars heats up the surrounding dust and gas, making it shine brightly in infrared.

Image Credit: ESA

Mergers and Acquisitions

galactic_mergerSeveral telescopes have teamed up to examine a rare and massive merger of two galaxies that took place when the universe was just 3 billion years old (that was over 10 billion years ago). The galaxies, collectively called HXMM01, were creating a couple of thousand new star a year as they merged. These days, our galaxy, the Milky Way, hatches about two to three a year. The total number of stars in both colliding galaxies averages is around 400 billion.

The Herschel Space Observatory first spotted the collision in images taken with infrared light (the image at left). Follow-up observations from other telescopes showed the extreme degree of star-formation taking place in the merger.

The merging galaxies are circled in the close up view (on the right). The red data from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory’s Submillimeter Array atop Mauna Kea, Hawaii, show dust-enshrouded regions of star formation. The green data, taken by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Very Large Array, near Socorro, N.M., show carbon monoxide gas in the galaxies.

Blue shows visible starlight. The blue blobs outside of the circle are galaxies located closer to us as seen via near-infrared light observations are from the Hubble Space Telescope and the W.M. Keck Observatory atop Mauna Kea, Hawaii.

Image credit: ESA/NASA/JPL-Caltech/UC Irvine/STScI/Keck/NRAO/SAO

Water, Water, Everywhere:

Nor any drop to drink.Jupiter_water

Astronomers have finally found direct proof that almost all water present in Jupiter’s stratosphere, an intermediate atmospheric layer, was delivered by comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, which struck the planet in 1994. The findings are based on new data from the Herschel space observatory and reveal more water in Jupiter’s southern hemisphere, where the impacts occurred, than in the north. Herschel is a European Space Agency mission.

Jupiter_Shoemaker_LevyThe origin of water in the upper atmospheres of the solar system’s giant planets has been a hot topic among planetary astronomers since the late ’90s. Astronomers were quite surprised when water was found in the stratospheres of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune by ESA’s Infrared Space Observatory.

The composite photo at left was assembled from separate images of Jupiter and comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1994.

Image Credits: Top, ESA. Left, NASA

Cool Andromeda

Cool_AndromedaThis view of the Andromeda galaxy from the Herschel space observatory shows relatively cool lanes of forming stars. Herschel is sensitive to the far-infrared light from cool dust mixed in with the gas where stars are born. This image reveals some of the very coldest dust in the galaxy (colored red here) that is only a few tens of degrees above absolute zero. Warmer regions such as the densely populated central bulge, home to older stars, appear as blue. Star-formation zones are in the spiral arms with several concentric rings interspersed with dark gaps where star formation is absent.

Andromeda (aka M31) is the nearest major galaxy to our own Milky Way about 2.5 million light-years away. Herschel is a European Space Agency mission.

Image Credit: ESA

Stellar Nursery

This infrared view (click the image to embiggen) made by the Herschel Space Observatory of Cygnus X spans some 6×2 degrees of one of the closest, massive star forming regions in the plane of our Milky Way galaxy. The rich stellar nursery already holds the massive star cluster known as the Cygnus OB2 association. Those stars are more evident by the region cleared by their energetic winds and radiation near the bottom center of the picture. They can’t be detected by Herschel instruments operating at long infrared wavelengths, but Herschel does reveal the region’s complex filaments of cool gas and dust around the locations where new massive stars are forming. Cygnus X lies some 4500 light-years away toward the heart of the northern constellation of the Swan. This picture covers a view about 500 light-years wide.

Image Credit: ESA

Eagle Nebula

ESA’s Herschel Space Observatory captured the image above of the Eagle nebula with its intensely cold gas and dust. The Pillars of Creation are seen inside the circle and at left in a famous picture made by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope in 1995.

The Herschel image of the Eagle nebula shows the self-emissions of the intensely cold nebula’s gas and dust as never seen before. Each color shows a different temperature of dust, from around 10 degrees above absolute zero (10 K or -442 °F) for the red, up to around 40 K (or -388 °F) for the blue.

Herschel reveals the intricate nature of the nebula’s tendrils of gas and dust, with large gaps forming a cave-like surrounding to the famous pillars. The gas and dust provide the material for the star formation that is still under way inside this enigmatic nebula.

Image Credits: Herschel, ESA. Hubble, NASA