The images are superb! You can see far more structure in these images than in the best previously available even though SPIRE’s are at longer wavelengths. You can see structure in the dust distribution in these galaxies and, by comparing the three different colours SPIRE observes in, you can get some idea of the temperature distribution of the dust.
Also, the faint background blobs in these images are real, as they’re present at all three SPIRE wavelengths. These are background dusty galaxies which we expect SPIRE will be able to detect in great numbers. This promise is now fulfilled marvelously in the first images we’ve taken. These are the galaxies responsible for the Cosmic Infrared Background which encompasses half the energy generated in the universe since the Big Bang. It’s made up of light emitted by stars, and accreting supermassive back holes, which has been absorbed by dust and reradiated at these long far-IR wavelengths. It is the hidden history of the universe, something we have had little access to before now, but which SPIRE will now help us to understand in detail.
HIFI, the high resolution spectrometer, also has released its first spectra, showing strong emission lines from gas involved in star formation in the DR21 molecular cloud.
Herschel was only launched about 7 weeks ago, and these observations are just a first quick look at what the instruments can do. There is a lot more tuning, calibration and refinement to be done before we can do real quantitative science with these instruments. For that reason to get decent data on anything at this stage is quite amazing. To get data of the quality seen in the SPIRE images, the PACS images you can find below and in the HIFI spectra is absolutely astounding.
Herschel really is going to bring a new era to far-IR astronomy!