Herschel digs up the dirt on distant galaxies using cosmic zoom lenses
04 Nov 2010



A UK-led team using the worlds largest space telescope, ESAs Herschel Space Observatory, has discovered a new way of locating a natural phenomenon that acts like a zoom lens, allowing astronomers to peer at galaxies in the distant and early Universe.

Illustration of gravitational lensing.

The effect of gravitational lensing as seen by Herschel and ground-based telescopes

Credit: ESA / NASA /JPL-Caltech / Keck / SMA

The magnification created by this phenomenon allows astronomers to see galaxies otherwise hidden from us, providing key insights into how galaxies have changed over the history of the cosmos.

Professor Rob Ivison of the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh, part of the team that created the images, said "This relatively simple technique promises to unlock the secrets of how galaxies like our Milky Way formed and evolved. Not only does the lensing allow us to find them very efficiently, but it helps us peer within them to figure out how the individual pieces of the jigsaw came together, back in the mists of time".

More details about the latest development from Herschel can be found on the UK Space Agency website (link opens in a new window).

QuoteThis relatively simple technique promises to unlock the secrets of how galaxies like our Milky Way formed and evolved Quote

Prof Rob Ivison
Royal Observatory, Edinburgh

Both STFC's UK Astronomy Technology Centre (UK ATC) and Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) are involved with the Herschel mission. UK ATC built a steering mechanism on board SPIRE (one of three instruments on board Herschel); the SPIRE beam steering mechanism is a moveable mirror inside the cold instrument that allows the instrument's field of view on the sky to be moved in a controlled way.

UK ATC also led the overall system engineering during the design phase, contributed to the optical design and have participated in the development of the Instrument Control Centre (ICC) which develops software for commanding and monitoring the SPIRE instrument and dealing with the data it produces.

RAL Space project manages the system engineering for the SPIRE hardware and ICC teams; the instrument was also assembled and tested in a custom-built facility at RAL. RAL Space also led the testing of SPIRE after its installation in the Herschel satellite and still hosts the SPIRE Operations Centre - the ICC 'headquarters' which is responsible for delivering all instrument software to ESA and for day-to-day instrument monitoring, operation and calibration.

For more information please contact: RAL Space Enquiries