On April 29, the European Space Agency announced that its premier infrared space observatory had run out of coolant and the mission had come to an end. Observing the cosmos in far-infrared wavelengths, the space telescope has given us some of the most striking views of cool nebulae, star forming regions, comets being pulverized around nearby stars, even asteroids buzzing around our own solar system. As we say goodbye to the historic mission, and astronomers continue to analyze the huge wealth of data Herschel has left us with, it's time to have a look back at some of the mission's most spectacular observations.
In this picture, embryonic stars feed on the gas and dust clouds deep inside the Orion Nebula. This image combines far-infrared data by Herschel and mid-infrared data by NASA's Spitzer space telescope.
ESA/Herschel/PACS & SPIRE Consortium, O. Krause, HSC, H. Linz
The Andromeda galaxy in infrared -- Herschel took this portrait of the famous spiral galaxy, picking out the fine detail from gas and dust running through its structure.
ESA/PACS & SPIRE consortia, A. Rivera-Ingraham & P.G. Martin, Univ. Toronto, HOBYS Key Programme (F. Motte)
This three-color image of the W3 giant molecular cloud combines Herschel's 70 μm (blue), 160 μm (green) and 250 μm (red) filters. W3 is located about 6200 light-years away and is a hub of intense star formation. Filaments of gas and dust cocooning protostars (yellow dots) can be seen.
ESA/Herschel/PACS/L. Decin et al
The star Betelgeuse is observed in infrared by Herschel as it rapidly approaches a "barrier" of interstellar gas. The bow shock of the star's stellar winds can easily be seen.
ESA/Bonsor et al (2013)
The star Kappa Coronae Borealis is captured in this infrared observation by Herschel. The star itself is blocked out whereas the ring of debris (likely from asteroid/comet impacts) glows bright.
ESA/Herschel/PACS/Bram Acke, KU Leuven, Belgium
The infrared emissions from dust produced by a huge number of cometary collisions surrounding the famous star Fomalhaut glows in bright blue in Herschel's eye. At least one exoplanet is known to orbit within this ring of dust.
Herschel: Q. Nguyen Luong & F. Motte, HOBYS Key Program consortium, Herschel SPIRE/PACS/ESA consortia. XMM-Newton: ESA/XMM-Newton
Supernova remnant W44 is the focus of this observation created by combining data from ESA's Herschel and XMM-Newton space observatories.
ESA and SPIRE & PACS consortia, Ph. André (CEA Saclay) for Gould’s Belt Key Programme Consortia
Herschel picks out 600 newly forming stars inside the W40 nebula cradle of stars -- located 1,000 light-years away in the constellation Aquila.
ESA/Herschel/PACS/MACH-11/MPE/B.Altieri (ESAC) and C. Kiss (Konkoly Observatory)
Herschel could also study solar system objects with ease. In this observation, asteroid Apophis was captured during its approach to Earth on 5/6 January 2013. This image shows the asteroid in Herschel’s three PACS wavelengths: 70, 100 and 160 microns, respectively.
ESA/Herschel/PACS, SPIRE/N. Schneider, Ph. André, V. Könyves (CEA Saclay, France) for the “Gould Belt survey” Key Programme
This striking image complemented Hubble's 23rd anniversary optical view of the Horsehead Nebula. Herschel's infrared observation of the Orion Molecular Cloud complex (including the Horsehead Nebula -- visible far right of image) provided a unique perspective on this astronomical favorite.
There are never enough hours in the day to do all of the things we want to do. Jonathon Keats, a conceptual artist, designed a city that would give residents as much time as they needed — by taking advantage of Einstein’s theory of Relativity.
The theory states that if you move really fast, or are near any massive object, including the Earth, time slows down for you relative to the rest of the universe. At 60 mph, for example, each second lasts an extra 3.8 femtoseconds, or a millionths of a billionth of a second, as measured by an outside observer. A clock on a GPS satellite in orbit moves faster than one on the surface of the planet — enough so that GPS systems have to take it into account to keep the errors from adding up.
Keats is exhibiting two ideas at the Modernism Gallery in San Francisco that capitalize on this theory. One exhibit demonstrates a way to manage time by building whole cities as rings that spin at high speeds. In this vision, residential, agriculture and industrial areas would each be in a spinning wheel. The wheels would have different rates of spin, with the fastest being in the residential area. Agriculture and industry would spin slower. From the perspective of the residents, crops would grow much faster, and manufacturing would too. It’s also possible to apply this idea to individual homes: spin your house at 90 percent of the speed of light and your bank interest will grow twice as fast — at least from your point of view.
The other exhibit slows time by using gravity itself. In this case, bricks of high-density metal warp space in their vicinity, slowing time down — although the amount is small, about a second every billion years. “Time management gurus are always talking about saving time,” he told DNews. “But if you really want to make a difference you have to deal with the physics,” rather than the psychology of personal habits.
None of this is possible yet — a ring 20 miles across spinning at half the speed of light would generate a centripetal force 141 billion times the force of gravity. Standing on the inside of it would be difficult.
Since you can’t build a spinning city, Keats came up with the ingots — a desktop version of time-dilation technology. “Any technology becomes mass-market when it reaches the desktop,” he said. The ingots, like everything else, generate their own gravitational fields, which is why they slow time down. Keats calls it time micromanagement, though it might be better termed nano-management since the time dilation is measured in billionths of a billionth of a second.
Keats has used science in his art before, notably a quantum bank, and this is another project in which he wants people to think about how we perceive time and physical laws. “It’s just kind of allowing the possibility of grappling with, and interacting with, forces and phenomena that are part of our lives,” he said. “Trying to make manifest things that are all around us but that we cant directly experience.”
Credit: Jonathon Keats