The Swift space telescope caught sight of the most powerful star explosion ever seen. Released May 3, 2013.
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.
Two NASA space telescopes have captured what appears to be the most powerful star explosion ever detected, a cosmic event so luminous that scientists dubbed it "eye-wateringly bright" despite being 3.6 billion light-years from Earth.
On April 27, NASA's Swift Space Telescope and the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope spotted the highest-energy gamma-ray burst (GRB) — an explosion of a massive star in the last stage of its life — ever before seen.
NASA scientists combined the observations into a video animation of the historic gamma-ray burst to illustrate the surprising brightness of this star explosion. [Spectacular Photos of Star Explosions (Gallery)]
"We have waited a long time for a gamma-ray burst this shockingly, eye-wateringly bright," Julie McEnery, a project scientist for the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., said in a statement. "The GRB lasted so long that a record number of telescopes on the ground were able to catch it while space-based observations were still ongoing."
One of the gamma-rays emitted during the eruption — seen in the constellation Leo — was three times more energetic than any other gamma-ray burst recorded by Fermi's Large Area Telescope (LAT), the instrument on the spacecraft responsible for detecting these kinds of explosions.
The gamma-ray burst (named GRB 130427A) was also the longest ever recorded, NASA officials said.
"The GeV emission from the burst lasted for hours, and it remained detectable by the LAT for the better part of a day, setting a new record for the longest gamma-ray emission from a GRB," NASA officials added.
Gamma-ray bursts are the brightest explosions yet observed in the universe.
"Astronomers think most [gamma-ray bursts] occur when massive stars run out of nuclear fuel and collapse under their own weight," NASA officials said in a statement. "As the core collapses into a black hole, jets of material shoot outward at nearly the speed of light."
Swift's detection of this burst was delayed. The satellite was moving between cosmic targets at the time of the eruption, but the spacecraft captured the explosion less than a minute after it began. Swift also aided astronomers in placing the gamma-ray burst closer to Earth than most other star explosions of its kind, NASA officials said.
"This GRB is in the closest 5 percent of bursts, so the big push now is to find an emerging supernova, which accompanies nearly all long GRBs at this distance," Goddard's Neil Gehrels, principal investigator for Swift, said in a statement.
Scientists are hoping to find a supernova within the area of the explosion in order to trace the gamma-ray burst back to its origins.
Observatories on the ground are keeping an eye on GRB 130427A's area of the sky to locate the supernova by mid-May.
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