The Herschel Space Observatory - Images

Herschel's Highlights


Fomalhaut, one of the brightest stars visible to the naked eye in the southern hemisphere and an analogue for our own Solar System, is at the heart of this luminous halo of "fluffy" dust. This image, produced by the Herschel Space Observatory's SPIRE (Spectral and Photometric Imaging Receiver) camera, show that small particles of dust clump together with large spaces between them, forming a debris disc around the star. Debris discs provide astronomers with valuable clues about how exoplanetary systems form. (Credit: ESA/Herschel/PACS/Bram Acke, KU Leuven, Belgium)

A Star is Born: a stellar nursery in the Milky Way

The Herschel Space Observatory's PACS and SPIRE cameras captured this image of stars forming in the Milky Way in a region in the Eagle constellation, where stars of different masses—some similar to that of our Sun, some more than 10 times as massive—are born. Two massive star nurseries are visible at the centre and at the left of the image, where starbursts are currently generating hundreds and hundreds of stars of all sizes. Large, newborn stars disrupt their prenatal gas embryos, excavating giant cavities in the galaxy in the process. (Credit: ESA / PACS & SPIRE Consortium, Sergio Molinari, Hi-GAL Project)

Star Wars: Galaxies collide

Herschel's PACS and SPIRE cameras revealed that Centaurus A—one of the closest galaxies to Earth—is, in fact, a galactic collision between a large elliptical galaxy and a spiral galaxy, with a complex mixture of dust, gas and star-forming regions. SPIRE has produced stunning views of the jets, thought to be powered by a supermassive black hole, one of the Universe's most destructive forces, emanating from the central region of this galaxy. (Credit: ESA/Herschel/PACS/SPIRE/C.D. Wilson, McMaster University)

SPIRE's Spectrographs: How astronomers divine the signatures of the stars

While the images produced by SPIRE are spectacular, it is only through spectroscopy and graphs like this one that astronomers can probe the composition and physical conditions of celestial objects.

Herschel's SPIRE instrument features a Fourier transform spectrometer (FTS), internationally recognized as an area of Canadian expertise. With its broad spectral coverage, SPIRE's FTS has been able to measure the spectral signatures from a wide range of molecules, atoms and ions, and thereby determine the environmental conditions in a wide range of sources from planetary atmospheres to star forming regions to active galaxies. For example, the presence of supermassive black holes in the cores of active galaxies can be inferred from measurements of many carbon monoxide spectral lines over the broad frequency range offered by SPIRE. While the lower frequency lines can be explained by star formation activity, the highest lines observed by SPIRE require violent accretion processes thought to arise near a supermassive black hole. Equally exciting is the detection of water in these galaxies (the blue lines).