The Far Infrared Galaxy

May 24, 2010
A Herschel false three-color image (blue=70 microns, green=160 microns, red=250 microns) of a region of the Milky Way galaxy with a giant stellar nursery in constellation of Vulpecula. Launched one year ago, Herschel's first results were announced last week, and the corresponding papers released to a forthcoming special issue of the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics. Credit: ESA, NASA, and the Herschel HiGal Team

( -- 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 the absorbed energy at far-infrared wavelengths.

One consequence is that, ironically, the many stellar birthplaces found in molecular clouds throughout the galaxy have rarely been studied at the wavelengths where the dust emits at its brightest.

The Herschel is a 3.5-meter, cryogenically cooled orbiting telescope, launched last year, with cameras and spectrometers that cover the full far infrared electromagnetic band -- the four octaves of light from the short wavelength infrared just longward of the visible to the submillimeter. Several satellite observatories over the past few decades have successfully begun to probe this mysterious range, but all have lacked Herschel's large collecting area, complete wavelength coverage, and a full complement of instruments, leaving many questions unanswered.

Last week the journal accepted for publication an entire issue's worth of papers with the first results from Herschel, with papers co-authored by CfA astronomers Joe Hora, Tim van Kampen, Eric Keto, Gary Melnick, Phil Myers, Tom Robitaille, Howard Smith, Tony Stark, Volker Tolls, and Qizhou Zhang. We reported on extragalactic results last week. Here we cite one set of papers about our own galaxy, the first results from a complete far-infrared map of the plane of the central third of the Milky Way. The images obtained so far from this study have revealed for the first time massive clouds of very cold dust and gas (only tens of degrees kelvin above absolute zero), apparently nurturing the very earliest embryos of future stars.

Explore further: Seeing the Invisible

Related Stories

Seeing the Invisible

May 17, 2010

( -- Astronomers, like physicians, use as much of the electromagnetic spectrum as they can, from X-ray to radio wavelengths, to examine their subjects the with the most suitable diagnostics.

Astrophysicists map the Milky Way's 4 spiral arms

January 5, 2009

Iowa State University's Martin Pohl is part of a research team that has developed the first complete map of the Milky Way galaxy's spiral arms. The map shows the inner part of the Milky Way has two prominent, symmetric spiral ...

Herschel Opens Its Infrared Eyes

June 29, 2009

( -- 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 ...

Hiding Out Behind the Milky Way

April 7, 2010

( -- A leggy cosmic creature comes out of hiding in this new infrared view from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE.

Akari's observations of galaxy M101

September 7, 2007

M101 is a spiral galaxy, 170 000 light-years in diameter. AKARI’s new observations reveal differing populations of stars spread across its spiral arms.

Galactic survey reveals a new look for the Milky Way

August 16, 2005

The Milky Way, it turns out, is no ordinary spiral galaxy. According to a massive new survey of stars at the heart of the galaxy by Wisconsin astronomers, including professor of astonomy Edward Churchwell and professor of ...

Recommended for you

SDO sees partial eclipse in space

May 26, 2017

On May 25, 2017, NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, saw a partial solar eclipse in space when it caught the moon passing in front of the sun. The lunar transit lasted almost an hour, between 2:24 and 3:17 p.m. EDT, ...

Collapsing star gives birth to a black hole

May 25, 2017

Astronomers have watched as a massive, dying star was likely reborn as a black hole. It took the combined power of the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT), and NASA's Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes to go looking for remnants ...

Jupiter's complex transient auroras

May 25, 2017

Combined observations from three spacecraft show that Jupiter's brightest auroral features recorded to date are powered by both the volcanic moon Io and interaction with the solar wind.

Methanol detected for first time around young star

May 25, 2017

Methanol, a key building block for the complex organic compounds that comprise life, has been detected for the first time in the protoplanetary disk of a young, distant star. This finding could help scientists better understand ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.