Herschel's Largest Survey of Cosmic Dust Is Huge and Beautiful

The largest ever census of dust in the local Universe has been carried out by the European Space Agency's Herschel space observatory—and the results are huge and beautiful.

Dust might not sound super sexy, but the tiny grains are fundamental in the creation of stars and planets, and lend galaxies that amazing ghostly appearance that we're all familiar with. The latest catalog of cosmic dust includes images of 323 different galaxies, all imaged by Herschel's instruments across far-infrared and submillimetre wavelengths.

The image above—click expand to embiggen—is a collage of just some of data, arranged to show dust-rich galaxies in the top left down to dust-poor ones in the bottom right. Those with lots of dust tend to be spiral or irregular, while the dust-poor are usually elliptical; blue and red colours represent cooler and warmer regions of dust, respectively.

As well as looking pretty, the data will be used alongside results from the ground based Atacama Large Millimeter Array in Chile to help map dust across the entire observable Universe. [ESA]