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Legacy of Herschel Space Observatory

Posted September 24, 2017

This view of the Cygnus-X star-formation region by Herschel highlights chaotic networks of dust and gas that point to sites of massive star formation. Image Credit: ESA/PACS/SPIRE/Martin Hennemann & Frederique Motte, Laboratoire AIM Paris-Saclay, CEA/Irfu — CNRS/INSU — Univ. Paris Diderot, France

To celebrate the legacy of ESA’s Herschel Space Observatory, which had significant NASA contributions, the European Space Agency (ESA) has designated this week as Herschel Week, highlighting some of the mission’s accomplishments.

Herschel is the largest observatory ever launched that explored the universe in infrared wavelengths, a spectrum of light that is invisible to the naked eye. Data from its nearly four years of observations, from 2009 to 2013, have helped scientists explore many topics of high interest, including the following:

1. How do stars form? This question speaks to the core of our existence, as all the atoms that form the planets of our solar system — and life on Earth itself — largely originated from previous generations of stars. Herschel has provided an unprecedented glimpse into portions of our galaxy where stars form. Scientists have made big strides in understanding the processes that lead to the formation of stars in our galaxy.

2. Herschel has tracked the presence of water in the Milky Way. The observatory found water in star-forming molecular clouds, detected it for the first time in the seeds of future stars and planets, and identified the delivery of water from interplanetary debris to planets in our solar system.

3. How do galaxies evolve? Herschel has helped answer this question.

Source: JPL


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