The beautiful star-forming cloud RCW 120Credit: ESA/PACS/SPIRE/HOBYS ConsortiaThe first data acquired by the European Herschel infrared space observatory are revealing new details of the process of star formation. New images show energetic star birth in distant galaxies and beautiful star-forming clouds draped across our Galaxy, the Milky Way. One picture even catches a star in the act of formation.
Herschel’s results challenge long-held ideas of star formation, and inspire future research. The Herschel mission is managed by the European Space Agency (ESA), with important participation from NASA.Infrared astronomy is an exciting field of modern astronomy. Observing the universe in the infrared enables astronomers to peer into cosmic clouds, and discover young veiled stars that cannot be observed by optical telescopes. "Herschel is a new eye on a part of the cosmos that has been dark and buried for a long time," said Paul Goldsmith, the mission's project scientist, at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).
Herschel's observation of the star-forming cloud RCW 120 has revealed an embryonic star, a star in its earliest stages of evolution, which is about to grow to become one of the most massive and brightest stars in the Galaxy. Currently, the enfant star packs 8 to 10 times the mass of the Sun, and is still surrounded by huge masses of gas and dust from which it can gain further mass. RCW 120 is about 4,300 light years away.
Herschel was launched into space on 14 May 2009, from the Guiana Space Centre, aboard an Ariane 5 rocket. Its orbit is located about 1.5 million km from Earth, around a specific point in the Sun-Earth system. Herschel is the largest infrared observatory ever deployed in space, with a mirror 3.5 m across. It is named in honor of Sir William Herschel (1738-1822), the discoverer of the infrared radiation. Herschel’s mission is scheduled to be 3 years long.
Further ReadingJPL Press Releasehttp://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2010-150
Aymen Mohamed IbrahemSenior Astronomy Specialist