The European Space Agency
is an international organisation comprising 19 member nations. ESA comes up with new ideas for space exploration and then co-ordinates the development of those ideas. On its official website, ESA states its mission as being "to shape the development of Europe’s space capability and ensure that investment in space continues to deliver benefits to the citizens of Europe and the world."
The Herschel Telescope is "the largest infrared space telescope ever launched". It is one and a half times bigger than the Hubble telescope. By using this latest infrared technology, the telescope can 'see' things that are not visible to other telescopes. Many of the furthest galaxies and newly forming stars that scientists want to study are too cold to be seen though optical or shorter wave lengths but show up strongly in infrared.
ESA's Herschel Project Scientist Göran Pilbratt explains it this way:
"By observing in the infrared we can study how things get formed, the very early steps, because formation processes very often happen in cool and dusty places"
The Hershel telescope has sent some unique images back to earth such as this latest picture of the Eagle Nebula released on Jan 17
This beautiful image which combines far-infrared and XMM-Newton's X-ray imaging shows how new stars which show up on the x-rays because they are hot interact with the surrounding dust and gas which are much colder and therefore only show up with the infrared. The earth's atmosphere would block either of these types of imaging techniques, so its not possible to see such beauty from a traditional earthbound telescope.
In this ESA image, we see a galaxy gradually gaining form using narrow streams of cold gas which will help it to form stars.
The Andromeda galaxy is our nearest neighbour, in galaxy terms and contains several hundred billion stars. This ESA image uses different imaging processes to show all the stages of the life of a star.
Finally, this image shows a galactic bubble known as RCW120. In the shell around the bubble is a star that is thought will be eight times the mass of our sun. It is 4300 light years away and the star itself is not visible but it is images like this that help scientists learn more about the formation and development of stars and this bubble in particular is of great interest as it is behaving in a different way than expected by astronomers.
The images provided by the Herschel telescope will continue to provide fascinating information for the scientific community and incredible images for the world at large to enjoy.