The European Space Agency has released a stunning video constructed from data collected by the Herschel space observatory over the course of its short operational life. The video displays a detailed panorama of the Milky Way as seen from our perspective in the Orion Spur of the Perseus spiral arm.
Compared to other orbital observatories such as the Hubble Space Telescope, Herschel's working life could be considered excessively brief, spanning as it did just a few years between 2009 - 2013. Nevertheless, in this short time, Herschel undertook vast cataloging campaigns in the sub-millimetre and far-infrared wavelengths, which allowed the telescope to reveal the complex disposition of star-forming materials such as cosmic dust.
The largest of these undertakings was known as the Herschel Infrared Galactic Plane Survey. The newly-released video stands as a visual representation of the 900 hours (roughly 40 days) worth of observations that were sunk into this colossal effort.
The video was stitched together from 70 individual maps compiled by the Herschel mission team, with the entire panorama displaying around two percent of the sky, and roughly 40 percent of the Milky Way's central plane. Due to the fact that the central plane plays host to the majority of the stars in our galaxy, it is readily observable to the naked eye as a bright band streaking across a clear night sky.
To allow us to appreciate, and attempt to understand the complex nature of the scene unfolding in the video, the otherwise invisible infrared wavelengths observed by Herschel have been assigned visible colors.
Diffuse interstellar matter serves as the backdrop for denser filamentary structures and nebulae. The panorama is also riddled with the various stages of stellar evolution, from compact regions of gas ready to ignite, to fully fledged stars, whose solar winds are working to sculpt the surrounding material.
The maps come complete with a source catalog for each of the five wavelengths of light recorded by Herschel. It is hoped that the data set will aide researchers to carry out further studies on stellar evolution and the distribution of stellar nurseries.
Scroll down to view the newly-released Herschel video, courtesy of ESA.