Friday, June 19, 2009

the whirlpool galaxy in the far-infrared!

last month we watched the successful launch of the herschel and planck telescopes aboard an ariane 5 rocket! they have since been traveling to their destination at L2 orbit (about 4 times farther from the earth than the moon). while traveling, scientists have been remotely calibrating the various systems inside the telescopes, and today they released the "first light" image from Herschel!!

this is one of my favorite galaxies, the whirlpool galaxy (M51), seen in far infrared light (160 microns, 100 microns and 70 microns) at higher resolution than ever before!

at these wavelengths, we are looking at the radiation from warm and cold dust and gas that live in the galaxy. the redder regions show colder material. from this gas and dust, new stars will eventually form!!

click here to view a little movie that combines the optical and new far-infrared images of M51! its interesting to me that the central region glows so bright with stars in the optical, but is still unresolved in the far-infrared that only sees dust and gas.