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