The Herschel Space Observatory’s mission to photograph the stars is winding down, so we wanted to take the chance to remember some of the finest images Herschel captured during its three-year tour of duty. Now, yes, some of these images are color corrected and touched up to highlight the more spectacular points contained within them — like the star forming inside a galactic bubble eight times more massive than our sun. In our view, that doesn’t make them any less valuable to astronomers studying them, which is the whole point. It also makes them way better eye-candy for the rest of us to gape at, so we’re just going to be thankful for it, rather than nitpicky.
No. 1 | A Galactic Bubble
This bubble of matter is eight times the mass of our Sun, and contains a baby star inside it -- the bright spot in the lower right of the bubble.
No. 2 | Fomalhaut
Surrounded by a disc of debris, the star Fomalhaut probably doesn't function as a portal between dimensions. I think we can all agree, though -- it looks like it would make a great one.
No. 3 | The Cocoon Nebula
One of Herschel's main jobs in its three year mission was to capture better data on star-forming regions in the galaxy, like the Cocoon Nebula, pictured here alongside 27 "filaments" of dust, gas, and debris whose purpose and formation is not yet understood.
No. 4 | Rosette Cloud
Speaking of star nurseries, you couldn't ask for a more amazing look at one than this image of a litter of baby stars in the Rosette Cloud.
No. 5 | Whirlpool Galaxy
One of the things we'll miss most about Herschel is it's huge mirror -- over 10 feet wide -- that allowed it to get amazing shots of distant galaxies, like M51, the Whirlpool Galaxy.
No. 6 | Andromeda
One of Herschel's most recent images was this shot of our galactic neighbor, Andromeda. Infrared is definitely your color, Andromeda -- I think that makes you an autumn?
No. 7 | Thousands of Galaxies
This image might not seem that impressive at first blush. Once you realize that every speck in this shot represents the infrared signature of an individual galaxy, containing billions of stars and speeding toward collision with another galaxy, though, it kind of puts things in perspective.
Let us know what your favorite shots are in the comments!
- I guess this galaxy looks a little bit like a Space Invader, in the right light
- Herschel contributed a couple of our favorite images of space from 2012
- This comet will be close enough that you won’t need a giant space telescope to see it