In the image above, from Herschel Space Observatory, every single point of light is a distant galaxy. According to a European Space Agency (ESA) statement, each of these minute marks represents the “heat” emanating from dust grains lying between the stars of each galaxy. This radiation has taken many billions of years to reach us, and in most cases was emitted well before the solar system and the Earth had even formed.
This frame shows a map of the north galactic pole. As on Earth, astronomers define locations on a cosmic scale using a coordinate system. For the Milky Way galaxy, this coordinate system is spherical, with the sun at its center, and provides values for longitude and latitude on the sky with respect to our galaxy.
Here’s what ESA said about the image:
The north galactic pole lies far from the cluttered disc of the Milky Way, and offers a clean, clear view of the distant universe beyond our home galaxy. In the sky, it is located somewhere in the northern constellation of Coma Berenices (Berenice’s Hair), a region that also contains an especially rich galaxy cluster known as the Coma Cluster. Serendipitously, the Coma Cluster is included in this map, adding over 1,000 points of light to the tally of individual galaxies.
Herschel was active from 2009 to 2013, and used its instruments to study the sky in the far infrared.
Bottom line: Herschel Space Observatory image of millions of galaxies toward the north galactic pole.
Eleanor Imster has helped write and edit EarthSky since 1995. She was an integral part of the award-winning EarthSky radio series almost since it began until it ended in 2013. Today, as Lead Editor at EarthSky.org, she helps present the science and nature stories and photos you enjoy. She also serves as one of the voices of EarthSky on social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and G+. She and her husband live in Tennessee and have two grown sons.