Space cameras reveal “nurseries” of new stars

Infrared technology developed at the University has revealed new views of our galaxy, the Milky Way

University of Sussex physicists are delighted with the first dramatic images from the European Space Station Herschel, which reveal the early life of stars in the Galaxy.

Herschel's major objective is to discover, using infrared technology, how the first galaxies formed and how they evolved to give rise to present-day galaxies like our own.

The Sussex team helped to develop the Spectral and Photometric Imaging Receiver (SPIRE) used by Herschel to take infrared images of Space. The team, led by Dr Seb Oliver, will also use the data collected by Herschel to map the early Universe.

Infrared technology detects radiation from very cold and distant objects, such as young stars and evolving galaxies, that would not be visible to other telescopes. SPIRE is one of three such instruments on board Herschel and is a collaboration of 18 institutes from eight countries.

The SPIRE camera worked in tandem with another camera (PACS) to produce composite images of a targeted region of our Galaxy (or Milky Way). This “test run” has now shown the success of this “parallel mode” by producing images of magnificent molecular clouds and previously unseen stages in the early life of stars within our Galaxy.

Dr Oliver says: "These pictures are quite breathtaking. They show the enormous complexity of the processes at work in the stellar nurseries in our own galaxy. We can see young stars apparently having been formed in filaments within a chaotic medium, heated and blasted apart by the supernovae from stars that formed and died in rapid succession.

“I am sure that astronomers will have their work cut-out to explain everything we can see here. The high definition resolution, the colours and the size of the image all demonstrate the power of the Herschel Space Observatory. I am proud that Astronomers at Sussex  have contributed to the SPIRE instrument which makes these image possible. “

A number of Herschel’s large scientific projects, or Key Programmes, will be carried out using the parallel mode. Large areas of the Galaxy will be surveyed, providing new insight into the mechanisms at play during star formation.

Dr Anthony Smith, a Research Fellow and a member of the Herschel team at Sussex says: "Some of us at Sussex have had the privilege of looking at Herschel images for some time now, while the team has been learning how to get the best performance out of the SPIRE instrument. But I really wasn't anticipating anything like this. Looking at the high-resolution image, the level of detail is absolutely stunning and the whole thing is exquisitely beautiful. And this is what Herschel can do in the space of just over six hours!"


For full details of the Herschel project see the ESA website

For further details of Sussex involvement in the Herschel mission, see HerMES 

For images, interviews etc, contact the University of Sussex Press office

Notes for Editors


Last updated: Tuesday, 6 October 2009