Since its launch in 2009 the Herschel Space Observatory has been revealing new information about the earliest, most distant stars and galaxies. Gemma Lavender introduces our Focus with what the infrared-seeking space telescope has to offer, before Herschel scientist Steve Eales takes the helm to explain how Herschel is able to peer into the dusty depths of cloudy star-forming regions to reveal the secrets of stellar birth. Keith Cooper rounds up with a look at how interstellar dust is a driver of the cosmic chemistry essential to life as we know it today.
Meanwhile, Emily Baldwin got to experience life as an astronomer at the European Southern Observatory when she took a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the peaks of the Atacama Desert to see the likes of the Very Large Telescope, VISTA, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, and the proposed site for the European Extremely Large Telescope. Gemma Lavender profiles some of the so-called Plutoids, the icy denizens that lurk beyond the orbit of Neptune and to this day still court controversy as to their planetary status; Keith Cooper reviews the latest findings following the news that neutrinos may travel faster than light; and Emily Baldwin presents some of the most recent images returned from the Dawn spacecraft of asteroid Vesta.
In our night sky section we offer a guide to daytime planetary observing, a circumpolar sky tour and the latest Jupiter viewing opportunities; in Telescope Talk Grant Privett talks polarised light images, and In the Shops includes a review of the Imaging Source's new CCD cameras and the classic Skylight f/15 mini achromat refractor. There's also a first look at the AstroFest 2012 line-up!