May 10

Herschel's HIFI follows the trail of cosmic water

Source: ESA Science and Technology

Water is an extremely important molecule in the Universe, abundant in a large variety of cosmic environments — from our own blue planet and its neighbourhood, the Solar System, through interstellar clouds where new stars and planets are formed, and even beyond the Milky Way, in star-forming galaxies. Due to the large amount of water vapour present in the Earth's atmosphere, however, astronomical observations of water from ground-based facilities are virtually impossible, even from the driest and highest deserts; they need to be carried out with space observatories.

Herschel's HIFI instrument was especially designed to follow the water trail in the Universe over a wide range of scales, from the Solar System out to extragalactic sources. Early results, presented this week at the Herschel First Results Symposium, demonstrate how HIFI uses water to probe the physical and chemical conditions in different regions of the cosmos.(read more)

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