University of British Columbia (UBC) astronomers led by UBC post-doctoral fellow Gaelen Marsden have released the most detailed images of deep space from 12 billion years ago using data from the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Herschel Space Observatory. The results were recently presented at the first International Herschel Science Meeting in Madrid, Spain.
The results reveal tens of thousands of newly discovered galaxies at the early stage of formation and just one billion years after the Big Bang.
Herschel is the largest and most expensive space telescope ever built. It is equipped with three infrared cameras: SPIRE, PACS and HIFI. Herschel was successfully launched on May 14, 2009 aboard an Ariane-5 rocket from Europe’s spaceport in French Guiana.
The results from this survey were preceded by the successful BLAST project, an Antarctic balloon experiment, a smaller scale project funded in part by the Canadian Space Agency. The BLAST project inspired a full-length documentary BLAST! The Movie.
“These images allow us to see 10 times more galaxies than ever before and with stunning clarity,” says Marsden, who has spent the past few years working on similar but lower-resolution images from previously collected data.
“It is incredibly rewarding to see the high sensitivity and resolution that the new Herschel data have enabled. They allow us to take a close look at the stars during early and vital stages of formation, and could change the way we study formation in the future.”
Caption: The SPIRE camera has three arrays operating at different wavelengths and the image from each of these is rendered in red, blue or green. Then the three images are combined to form a single false color image.
Data collected by Herschel are being analysed by the programme’s biggest research project, the Herschel Multi-tiered Extragalactic Survey (HerMES). The project consists of more than 100 astronomers from six countries, including UBC Astronomy Professors Mark Halpern and Douglas Scott and post-doctoral fellows Ed Chapin, Gaelen Marsden, Elisabetta Valiante and Don Wiebe.
The HerMES project aims to produce a map of the Universe as it was as far back as 12 billion years ago and is expected to discover hundreds of thousands of new galaxies at early stages of their formation. The first results from the HerMES survey come from the SPIRE camera, in which Canadians are involved through the support of the CSA.
A major goal of the Herschel mission is to discover how galaxies were formed and how they evolved to give rise to present-day galaxies like our own Milky Way Galaxy. Professors Halpern and Scott of UBC’s Department of Physics & Astronomy are experts in understanding galaxy formation through using far-infrared, millimetre wavelength and microwave radiation and will actively participate in the HerMES project as it produces more results.