Cosmic Zoom Lens Press release information

Notes for editors


The Herschel ATLAS (Astrophysical Terahertz Large Area Survey) is the largest Herschel open-time key project.  It was awarded 600 hours of Herschel observation time to survey 550 square degrees of sky in 5 bands (110um, 170um, 250um, 350um, & 500um). It is expected to detect approximately 250,000 galaxies, from the nearby Universe out to redshifts of 3 to 4, when the Universe was only around 2 billion years old.  The data used in this work, taken during the Science Demonstration Phase of the Herschel mission, covers a single 4x4 degree patch of sky, which represents about 1/30th of the total target area.  The Herschel-ATLAS survey is lead by Dr Loretta Dunne, University of Nottingham, and Professor Steve Eales, Cardiff University.


Herschel is an ESA space observatory with science instruments provided by European-led Principal Investigator consortia and with important participation from NASA.  Since launch on 14th May 2009, Herschel spent several months undergoing careful tests on the performance of the instruments and calibration.  This was followed by the Science Demonstration Phase: the period when the observing capabilities were tested in full using snippets from the approved Key Programmes.

To date, the mission has gone almost perfectly.  The performance of the spacecraft has been shown to be well within pre-launch expectations, all three instruments (SPIRE, PACS and HIFI) are working extremely reliably, and the data from the Science Demonstration Phase is exceedingly promising.  Herschel is now in a routine science phase, and will continue observing until its liquid helium coolant runs out in around two and half years.  In 2009, Time Magazine voted Herschel the 7th best invention of 2009.


The SPIRE instrument contains an imaging photometer (camera) and an imaging spectrometer. The camera operates in three wavelength bands centred on 250, 350 and 500 μm, and so can make images of the sky simultaneously in three sub-millimetre “colours”.  SPIRE was designed and built by an international collaboration, led by Professor Matt Griffin of Cardiff University.


PACS is an imaging camera and spectrometer covering wavelengths between 57 and 210 µm. PACS was built by a consortium of institutes and university departments from across Europe, and is led by Albrecht Poglitsch of the Max-Planck-Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, Garching, Germany.

Other datasets:

The distances to the foreground galaxies in each case were measured using the W.M. Keck Observatory, the William Herschel Telescope, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, and Apache Point Observatory.  The distances to the more distant background galaxies was measured with the Herschel Space Observatory, combined with the Max-Planck Millimeter Bolometer, the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory, the Green Bank Telescope, the Submillimeter Array, and the Plateau de Bure Interferometer.  


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