$2.2 billion Herschel Space Observatory Finds Thousands of Galaxies

BOULDER, Colo., Dec. 31 (UPI) — The European Space Agency’s $2.2 billion Herschel Space Observatory has found thousands of galaxies in early stages of formation, scientists said.

Some of the galaxies found by the the spacecraft are from more than 12 billion years ago — just a billion years after the Big Bang, University of Colorado at Boulder Associate Professor Jason Glenn said.

And the images of the early galaxies are “amazingly clear and deep,” he said.

Glenn, who developed Herschel’s spectral and photometric imaging receiver with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said the SPIRE instrument found these previously unknown galaxies because it can see “submillimeter” light, which has wavelengths longer than those found in the visible spectrum and shorter than radio waves.

“The submillimeter sky is absolutely paved with galaxies,” Glenn said.

A single image in the constellation Ursa Major, which includes the Big Dipper, revealed 10 times as many galaxies as seen before by all the worlds’ telescopes observing the skies in submillimeter wavelengths, Glenn said.

“Herschel is providing a whole new window on the universe,” he said.

The spacecraft — named after William Herschel, the late-18th century discoverer of the infrared spectrum and planet Uranus, and his sister and observing partner, Caroline — was launched from the Guiana Space Center in French Guiana May 14.

Currently orbiting nearly a million miles from Earth, it sifts through the coldest and dustiest objects in space to trace the path by which potentially life-forming molecules, such as water, form.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

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