Well Herschel has done it again – releasing an incredible image filled with beauty and science. This time it shows a distant, dark cloud located a thousand light years away in the constellation Aquila. What you’re seeing is 65 light years across and previously invisible to astronomers. These data were taken on 24 October 2009 using two of Herschel’s instruments: the Photodetector Array Camera and Spectrometer (PACS) and the Spectral and Photometric Imaging Receiver (SPIRE).
The rusty red material you see is dust and it contains within its filaments and structure, some 700 protostars ready to burst into life. The thick dust in this region had, until now, totally obscured all the amazing content. The blue areas are places where stars have already formed and are now illuminating nearby hydrogen gas.
This image has been keeping an officemate of mine busy for quite some time already. Identifying the 700 protostars and myriad other objects in this image – which is only one of hundreds of images yet to come – is a big challenge for astronomers working with Herschel data. I can’t help but wonder if the answer to this data-rich problem may lie somewhere in the Zooniverse.
You can find more on Herschel on the ESA website, and you can read more about this particular image via this ESA link. This image was released alongside a new website called OSHI (Online Showcase of Herschel Images) which although a bit sparse right now, is worth bookmarking for the future.