The Herschel Space Observatory needs you

Dec 19, 2012 by Rachel E Atkinson
The Herschel Space Observatory needs you
When this dark region on the nebula NGC1999 was observed in visible light (inset), and from ground-based infrared telescopes (main image, green/blue) it was assumed to be caused by a dark cloud of cold dust. But Herschel’s far-infrared observations (main image, red/yellow) also showed a dark area, telling astronomers that there really is nothing there – it is a hole in the nebula, blown by the bright star just to the left.

(Phys.org)—An astronomer from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) is leading a global study to help find holes in dust clouds.

Professor Derek Ward-Thompson has been joined by astronomers who use Europe's Herschel and they are asking the public to help find holes in the dust clouds that are threaded through our galaxy.

By looking at the images from Herschel, combined with those from NASA's Spitzer satellite, members of the public are invited to join the science effort by helping to distinguish between of and holes in the that are threaded through our galaxy.

Dust clouds don't come in simple shapes, and so the process of distinguishing between dark clouds and holes is incredibly difficult to do. Luckily, the ideal tool is at hand: the human eye.

Observations from the Spitzer satellite show dark regions in the middle of bright clouds of and dust. These were previously assumed to be of much colder dust, which Spitzer's cannot see, and which appear silhouetted against the .

The Herschel Space Observatory observes far-infrared light, allowing it to see much colder dust than Spitzer. The expectation was that these dark regions would glow brightly in Herschel's images, allowing astronomers to study them in greater detail.

The Hi-GAL survey, one of the largest Herschel observing programmes, is mapping the entire plane of our galaxy. By observing these far-, it is possible to identify much colder regions than with other infrared satellites, and has resulted in a huge number of discoveries – and surprises.

"We were surprised to find that some of these dark clouds were simply not there, appearing dark in Herschel's images as well," said Professor Ward-Thompson, the Director of the Jeremiah Horrocks Institute for Astrophysics.

"We immediately set about trying to find out how many of these were really there, and how many were holes in space."

The problem proved more complex than the team had anticipated. He said: "The problem is that clouds of interstellar dust don't come in handy easy-to-recognise shapes. The images are too messy for computers to analyse, and there are too many for us to go through ourselves."

This is where the Zooniverse comes in, with its community of citizen scientists poised ready to help out. The new images are part of the Milky Way Project, which launched two years ago and, through the efforts of over 40,000 volunteers, has already created astronomy's largest catalogue of star-forming bubbles, as well as a plethora of nearby star clusters, distant galaxies and more. The Milky Way Project volunteers are excellent at measuring and mapping our galaxy.

Robert Simpson, the Zooniverse lead for this project, said: "What we've seen across all our projects is that the human brain can classify some images more quickly and reliably than computers can. We're delighted to welcome Herschel into the Zooniverse."

"This is Herschel's first citizen science project. It will be exciting to follow the progress in the coming months," said Göran Pilbratt, the ESA Herschel Project Scientist.

The Milky Way Project is available on the website.

Explore further: Sandblasting winds shift Mars' landscape

Provided by University of Central Lancashire

3 /5 (2 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Herschel and Spitzer see nearby galaxies' stardust

Jan 10, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- The cold dust that builds blazing stars is revealed in new images that combine observations from the Herschel Space Observatory, a European Space Agency-led mission with important NASA contributions; ...

The Far Infrared Galaxy

May 24, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Our Milky Way galaxy, like other spiral galaxies, has copious amounts of dust in its spiral arms. The dust absorbs starlight, thereby blocking our optical views, but at the same time it re-radiates ...

A cannibalistic galaxy with a powerful heart

Apr 04, 2012

Observations by the two of the European Space Agency's space observatories have provided a multi-wavelength view of the mysterious galaxy Centaurus A. The new images, from the Herschel Space Observatory and ...

Herschel finds a hole in space

May 11, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- ESA's Herschel infrared space telescope has made an unexpected discovery: a hole in space. The hole has provided astronomers with a surprising glimpse into the end of the star-forming process.

Young stars flicker amidst clouds of gas and dust

Feb 29, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- Astronomers have spotted young stars in the Orion nebula changing right before their eyes, thanks to the European Space Agency's Herschel Space Observatory and NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. ...

Fine-tuning galaxies with Herschel and Spitzer

Nov 19, 2012

(Phys.org)—Galaxies come in all shapes and sizes: from those with compact fuzzy bulges or central bars to galaxies with winding spiral arms. Astronomer Edwin Hubble classified these different breeds of ...

Recommended for you

The wake-up call that sent hearts racing

2 hours ago

"But as the minutes ticked by, the relaxed attitude of many of us began to dissolve into apprehension. Our levels of adrenaline and worry began to rise."

US-India to collaborate on Mars exploration

11 hours ago

The United States and India, fresh from sending their own respective spacecraft into Mars' orbit earlier this month, on Tuesday agreed to cooperate on future exploration of the Red Planet.

Swift mission observes mega flares from a mini star

12 hours ago

On April 23, NASA's Swift satellite detected the strongest, hottest, and longest-lasting sequence of stellar flares ever seen from a nearby red dwarf star. The initial blast from this record-setting series ...

Sandblasting winds shift Mars' landscape

16 hours ago

High winds are a near-daily force on the surface of Mars, carving out a landscape of shifting dunes and posing a challenge to exploration, scientists said Tuesday.

PanSTARRS K1, the comet that keeps going

19 hours ago

Thank you K1 PanSTARRS for hanging in there! Some comets crumble and fade away. Others linger a few months and move on. But after looping across the night sky for more than a year, this one is nowhere near ...

User comments : 0