AKARI, the new Japanese infrared sky surveyor mission in which ESA is participating, saw ‘first light’ on 13 April 2006 (UT) and delivered its first images of the cosmos. The images were taken towards the end of a successful checkout of the spacecraft in orbit.
These two images of the reflection nebula IC4954 were taken by the two instruments on board Akari - the Far-Infrared Surveyor (FIS) – on the left - and the near- and mid-Infrared Camera (IRC) – on the right. The observed wavelengths are 90 and 9 microns, respectively. The IC4954 region is situated at a distance of about 6000 light years from us and extends more than 10 light years across. In these first infrared images of this area it is possible to see individual stars that have recently been born. They are embedded in gas and dust and could not be seen in visible light. Is it also possible to see the gas clouds from which these stars are made.
These infrared images of the galaxy M81 were taken by the near- and mid-Infrared Camera (IRC) on board Akari. The observed wavelengths are 3, 4, 7, 11, 15, and 24 microns, respectively. M81 is a spiral galaxy located at a distance of about 12 million light years from us. The images at 3 and 4 microns show the distribution of stars in the inner part of the galaxy without any obscuration from intervening dust clouds. At 7 and 11 microns it is possible to see the radiation from organic materials in the interstellar gas of the galaxy. The distribution of the dust heated by young hot stars is exhibited in the images at 15 and 24 micron, showing that the star forming regions sit along the spiral arms of the galaxy. Credits: JAXA
The mission, formerly known as ASTRO-F, was launched on 21 February 2006 (UT) from the Uchinoura Space Centre in Japan. Two weeks after launch the satellite reached its final destination in space – a polar orbit around Earth located at an altitude of approximately 700 kilometres.
On 13 April, during the second month of the system checkout and verification of the overall satellite performance, the AKARI telescope’s aperture lid was opened and the on-board two instruments commenced their operation. These instruments - the Far Infrared Surveyor (FIS) and the near-mid-infrared camera (IRC) - make possible an all-sky survey in six infrared wavebands. The first beautiful images from the mission have confirmed the excellent performance of the scientific equipment beyond any doubt.
Martin Kessler | alfa
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