Herschel Opens Its Infrared Eyes

June 29, 2009
Glowing light from clouds of dust and gas around and between the stars is visible clearly. These clouds are a reservoir of raw material for ongoing star formation in this galaxy. Blue indicates regions of warm dust that is heated by young stars, while the colder dust shows up in red.

(PhysOrg.com) -- The Herschel Space Observatory has snapped its first picture since blasting into space on May 14, 2009. The mission, led by the European Space Agency with important participation from NASA, will use infrared light to explore our cosmic roots, addressing questions of how stars and galaxies are born.

The new "sneak preview" image was taken in an early attempt to demonstrate that Herschel works, and, in particular, that its telescope is focused and correctly aligned with the science instruments, and to whet our appetites for what's yet to come. It shows the Whirlpool galaxy, which lies relatively nearby, about 35 million light-years away, in the constellation Canes Venatici.

The galaxy was first observed by Charles Messier in 1773, who gave the beauty its official name of Messier 51. Back then, astronomers, including William Herschel, the observatory's namesake, catalogued objects like these as fuzzy nebulae without knowing their true nature. Later, Messier 51 became one of the first of these fuzzy objects observed to have a spiral structure, a finding that eventually led to the revelation that galaxies full of stars exist far from our own.

The image is a composite of infrared light captured with Herschel's Photoconductor Array Camera and Spectrometer at three wavelengths: 70, 100 and 160 microns. Herschel's full spans 55 to 672 microns. The blue and white areas show where stars are actively forming, while the brown regions contain cold dust. The brightest blue dot at top left is a smaller, companion galaxy.

Longer-wavelength light inherently does not produce pictures with resolution as high as those obtained at shorter wavelengths, such as visible light. However, because Herschel's mirror is the largest infrared astronomy mirror ever launched in space (3.5 meters, or about 11.5 feet across), it can take the sharpest pictures to date at the particular wavelengths it observes.

During its prime mission phase, NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, also a space-based infrared telescope, could see shorter-wavelength light, with wavelengths ranging from 3.6 to 160 microns. Because the two telescopes are able to see, for the most part, different wavelengths of light, their results complement each other, highlighting the multifaceted features of cosmic objects. Spitzer's shorter-wavelength infrared view of the Whirlpool galaxy, in comparison to a visible-light view, can be seen at gallery.spitzer.caltech.edu/Im … age_name=ssc2004-19a .

Herschel is in the final stretches of its journey to the second Lagrange point of the Earth-sun system. The observatory will spend its lifetime, estimated to be at least three-and-a-half-years, orbiting this point, which is about 1.5 million kilometers (930,000 miles) from Earth on the opposite side of our planet from the sun. After a cover protecting the telescope's instruments was popped open on June 14, engineers and scientists commanded the telescope to take its first test picture. The telescope is still being commissioned, with science observations expected to begin later this year.

Herschel is a cornerstone mission, with science instruments provided by a consortia of European institutes and with participation by NASA.

Provided by JPL

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not rated yet Jun 29, 2009

Why are the "clouds of dust and gas around and between the stars" so remarkably heterogeneous in this photo?

Analysis of the Allende meteorite in 1975 showed that heterogeneous material formed the solar system: All primordial helium in the Allende meteorite is accompanied by "strange" xenon in which Xe-124 and Xe-136 are enriched by a factor of ~2 from the p- and r-processes of nucleosynthesis reactions in a supernova. http://tinyurl.com/m54xz5

In 1995, the Galileo probe into Jupiter confirmed this link between primordial helium and "strange" xenon across astronomical distances. http://tinyurl.com/otnky3

In 2006, NASA even acknowledged that heterogeneous layers of a supernova are not mixed by a supernova explosion. http://tinyurl.com/3xoltt

Will Herschel photos now tell us that such heterogeneous material fills all of the space around and between the stars?

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
1 / 5 (3) Jun 29, 2009

First of all, we must get past the irrational belief that all heavy elements are formed in stars, as there is no good, rational reason to believe this in the first place.

Regardless of what you believe about creation and the origins of the universe, there is absolutely no rational reason to think that the universe wasn't created with a large amount of heavy elements already in it.

When attempting to study the past, there is really no rational reason at all to say what "must be," particularly when we do not even understand the laws of physics themselves.

For example:
Scientists are still trying to determine just what in the world dark energy and dark matter actually are, and just what mathematical laws they obey (and I believe that if either of them exist they both must exist, and that moreover, there must be yet another such entity to explain anomalies that neither of those explains, but I digress,); Our science hasn't even described these entities yet, and still they try to tell us how old the universe is, or what the mass, age, and composition is of a star or galaxy allegedly 25 million light years distant.

How can we take seriously such measurements, when the FUNDAMENTAL LAWS which underlie and affect those measurements have not yet been accurately or adequately described?

How much "dark matter" is there?

Is Dark Energy a linear force? quadratic w/ respect to distance? cubic? Exponential?

Some problems with physics:

1) It literally is irrational to assume that the laws of physics are the same for all space and time. There is no justification whatsoever for this assumption, other than that it makes us feel good about ourselves, nor is there any evidence for it.

2) As previously stated, at least from a purely naturalistic perspective, it is irrational to assume much of anything about starting conditions when you don't know all the laws yet, and don't understand the ones you do know. It is certainly irrational to assume that the universe wasn't created with a relatively high content of heavy elements to begin with.

3) Regardless of 1 or 2 above, it is irrational to assume the universe, much less its creator, can be comprehended. It may simply be so complex and so complicated as to be beyond comprehension of mere mortal humans or perhaps even any imaginable artificial intelligence.

We can no more expect to accurately and precisely describe our universe than Mario can accurately and precisely describe the laws of his universe. All Mario could possibly "know" is that if he falls down a "bottomless" hole (which are everywhere,) or hits a koopa he's toast, and for "some reason" he can't run back to the left...none of this is rational, but it is all very much ordered...

The details of the "rules" and "formulas" in the background that make the "game universe" work are functionally irrelevant to both the player and the character, and only the creator needs be concerned with them. There may be more than one way for "mario" to explain his universe's laws, and yet it is possible that none of them are correct.

Occam's razor does not hold true at all, because it is possible that the "programmer" may have made the "program" more complicated than "necessary" in the "background" just to make people ask questions, or just because he felt like it, to amuse himself with a silly exercise, etc.

Trying to understand everything in the universe in every detail is a vain endeavor.
5 / 5 (1) Jul 05, 2009
I do not know of anyone who knows anything accurate about the subject that believes that all heavy elements or all elements at all are formed in stars. However, the heavier elements were formed by supernova explosions.

It is thought that stars only fuse atomic nuclei up to Iron (Fe) or so with the rest as a result of radioactive processes involved in the death throes of stars as well as human activity for some of the heaviest which do not appear to occur in nature.

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