The Whirlpool Galaxy – Herschel’s first view

M51 "whirlpool galaxy"ESA’s Herschel infrared observatory was launched back in May – I noted some relevant video clips at the time. The Planck microwave observatory, which was launched at the same time, successfully separated from Herschel and is due to arrive at L2, the second Lagrange point of the Sun-Earth system, early in July. It’s twittering as it goes.. Meanwhile, Herschel’s cryo-cover was removed on June 14 and, as the BBC report, ESA have released an initial test observation taken almost immediately afterwards. From ESA’s press release.

This image shows the famous ‘whirlpool galaxy’, first observed by Charles Messier in 1773 [added link], who provided the designation Messier 51 (M51). This spiral galaxy lies relatively nearby, about 35 million light-years away, in the constellation Canes Venatici. M51 was the first galaxy discovered to harbour a spiral structure. The image is a composite of three observations taken at 70, 100 and 160 microns, taken by Herschel’s Photoconductor Array Camera and Spectrometer (PACS) on 14 and 15 June, immediately after the satellite’s cryocover was opened on 14 June.

Comparative views of M51 from Nasa’s Spitzer space telescope and from Herschel

M51 Spitzer and Herschel views

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  • Big Maggie

    Pete,

    My apologies for not responding to your wonderful astronomy posts before now. They and the links you provide have sent me off on so many fabulous journeys of discovery. Many thanks!

    I’m sure you’d be with me in my admiration of Charles Messier, who spotted that whirlpool galaxy way back in 1773—not to mention the rest of his deepsky observations.

    So accustomed are we to our modern instruments, including spectroscopes, that we tend to make light of the extraordinary discoveries made by those early astronomers using the most primitive of instruments. They can’t be hymned enough in my opinion.

  • Pete Baker

    “So accustomed are we to our modern instruments, including spectroscopes, that we tend to make light of the extraordinary discoveries made by those early astronomers using the most primitive of instruments. They can’t be hymned enough in my opinion.”

    Indeed, Maggie.

    And, if I may quote Robert Hooke again,

    ‘Tis not unlikely, but that there may be yet invented several other helps for the eye, as much exceeding those already found, as those do the bare eye, such as we may perhaps be able to discover living Creatures in the Moon, or other Planets, the figures of the compounding Particles of matter, and the particular Schematisms and Textures of Bodies.

  • Devil Eire

    M51 was the first galaxy discovered to harbour a spiral structure.

    A point of local interest, of course, is that it was William Parsons who first sketched the spiral shape of M51, using the Leviathan at Birr, Co. Offaly.