'Hidden' Milky Way caught on camera

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The Independent Online

New images of our galaxy today showed a small part of the milky way in a new light.

A British scientist involved in obtaining the pictures said they showed the galaxy in "a very turbulent process", constantly forging new generations of stars.

The images were produced by the Herschel Space Observatory using, for the first time, the UK-led Spire camera in tandem with the satellite's other camera, Pacs.

Herschel, launched in May, was designed to view the universe at far infrared wavelengths and carries the largest telescope ever flown into space.

Together, the cameras not only reveal new material in the galaxy but provide astronomers with information about how much material there is, its mass, temperature and composition, and whether or not some of it is collapsing to form new stars.

Professor Matt Griffin, of Cardiff University, Spire's principal investigator, said: "We had high hopes for this kind of observation with Herschel, using the combined power of the two cameras to see the galaxy as never before.

"It's great to see that the observations work so well from a technical point of view, and that the scientific results are so spectacular.

"It appears that star formation in the galaxy is a very turbulent process."

The two instruments have imaged an area around 16 times as big as the size of the moon as seen from earth.

Professor Derek Ward-Thompson, also of Cardiff University, said: "The wealth of detail that is visible in these images is quite simply stunning.

"We are getting a view of the interstellar medium such as we have never seen before.

"This will help us to unravel the mysteries of star formation in a way that has never been previously possible. Herschel is certainly living up to all of our expectations."

Large areas of the milky way will be systematically surveyed by Herschel in this manner, helping astronomers to unravel the mysteries of star formation.

Dr Pete Hargrave, who led the team that helped build Spire, said: "I am staggered by the beauty of these images.

"We can see, in exquisite detail, the material from which stars are born.

"The fact that Spire and Pacs are working so well together is testament to the expertise and years of hard work put in by the instrument teams. We're all pretty chuffed!"