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Unveiling the coldest regions of our galaxy

18 March 2010

Cold Dust in SpaceImages reveal a galactic web of cold dust. Image courtesy of ESA/HFI consortium/IRAS

Giant filaments of cold dust stretching through the coldest regions of our Galaxy have been revealed for the first time with the support of leading University astronomers.

The Planck satellite contains the High Frequency Instrument (HFI), which has sent back its latest images. HFI was built by an international team with strong involvement from the School of Physics and Astronomy, led by Professor Peter Ade.

The European Space Agency’s Planck satellite – the first European mission designed to study the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) - has begun the second of four full-sky surveys, which hopes to provide the most detailed information yet about the size, mass, age, geometry, composition and fate of the Universe.

Professor Peter Ade, School of Physics and Astronomy, said: "The HFI is living up to our most optimistic pre-flight expectations. The wealth of the data is seen in these beautiful multicolour images, exposing previously unseen detail in the cold dust components of our galaxy.

"There is much to be learned from detailed interpretation of the data which will significantly enhance our understanding of the star formation processes and galactic morphology."

The new images are a scientific by-product of a mission which is hoped will provide the most complete picture of the early Universe.

The HFI data were recorded as part of Planck’s first all-sky survey at microwave wavelengths. As the spacecraft rotates, its instruments sweep across the sky. During every rotation, they cross the Milky Way twice.

In the course of Planck’s mission to map the afterglow of the big bang, it is also producing maps of the Galaxy. One of the key advantages of Planck is its ability to measure the temperature of the coldest dust particles and locate the coldest dusty clumps in the Galaxy, areas where star formation is about to occur.

Dr David Parker, Director of Space Science and Exploration at the British National Space Centre (BNSC), said, "Less than a year since it was launched, Planck is producing some spectacular results.

"The Planck spacecraft is just one of a family of cutting edge scientific missions in which the UK is already playing a major role. I'm looking forward to fresh discoveries and continued involvement in such exciting missions with the forthcoming creation of a UK executive space agency."

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