Image: Glowing jewels in the galactic plane

Apr 29, 2014
Credit: ESA/PACS & SPIRE Consortium, S. Molinari, Hi-GAL Project

The majority of the stars in our Galaxy, the Milky Way, reside in a single huge disc, known as the Galactic Plane, spanning 100 000 light-years across. The Sun also resides in this crowded stellar hub, lying roughly halfway between its centre and its outer edges.

This disc is filled with a diffuse mixture of gas and – the – that pervades space, filling the large gaps found between stars. Occasionally, these clouds of gas and dust cool, becoming denser and denser until they spark star formation, giving rise to new generations of stars.

This image is part of Hi-GAL, a survey of the Galactic Plane completed with ESA's Herschel Space Observatory. Peering at the sky in infrared light, Herschel could detect the glow of dust particles dispersed between stars. This minor – but crucial – component of the interstellar medium allows astronomers to investigate how stars are born in the Milky Way, and how they affect their environment as they age.

Nestled in the Milky Way's disc are pockets of gas and dust that have been heated by nearby newborn stars, causing them to glow brightly like cosmic gems. Through their higher temperatures, these regions glow at shorter infrared wavelengths and are depicted in violet and green, while the colder material in the surroundings – only a few tens of degrees above absolute zero – appears redder.

Laced amongst the stars is an intricate network of filaments sprinkled with tiny white spots: these are denser clumps of gas and dust that will likely evolve and give birth to new stars.

The image combines observations from the PACS and SPIRE instruments on Herschel. It spans about 12º on the longer side, corresponding to some 24 times the diameter of the full Moon. This is 1/30th of the entire Galactic Plane survey.

Explore further: Image: The NGC 5194 spiral galaxy

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Image: The NGC 5194 spiral galaxy

Jan 28, 2014

The Whirlpool Galaxy, also known as M51 or NGC 5194, is one of the most spectacular examples of a spiral galaxy. With two spiral arms curling into one another in a billowing swirl, this galaxy hosts over ...

Image: Star factory NGC 7538

Mar 04, 2014

(Phys.org) —The billowing clouds portrayed in this image from ESA's Herschel observatory are part of NGC 7538, a stellar nursery for massive stars. Located around 9000 light-years away, this is one of the ...

Cygnus-X: the cool swan glowing in flight

May 10, 2012

(Phys.org) -- Chaotic networks of dust and gas signpost the next generations of massive stars in this stunning new image of the Cygnus-X star-nursery captured by ESA’s Herschel space observatory.  ...

Astronomers complete cosmic dust census

Mar 18, 2014

An international team of astronomers has completed a benchmark study of more than 300 galaxies, producing the largest census of dust in the local Universe, the Herschel Reference Survey. Led by Dr Luca Cortese ...

Research maps where stars are born

Oct 14, 2013

(Phys.org) —A University of Arizona-led group of astronomers has completed the largest-ever survey of dense gas clouds in the Milky Way – pockets shrouded in gas and dust where new stars are being born.

Video: Guide to our Galaxy

Nov 22, 2013

This virtual journey shows the different components that make up our home galaxy, the Milky Way, which contains about a hundred billion stars.

Recommended for you

Lives and deaths of sibling stars

4 hours ago

This beautiful star cluster, NGC 3293, is found 8000 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Carina (The Keel). This cluster was first spotted by the French astronomer Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille in ...

Fermi finds a 'transformer' pulsar

21 hours ago

(Phys.org) —In late June 2013, an exceptional binary containing a rapidly spinning neutron star underwent a dramatic change in behavior never before observed. The pulsar's radio beacon vanished, while at ...

User comments : 0