ABSTRACT. The Herschel Reference Survey is a Herschel guaranteed time key project and will be a benchmark study of dust in the nearby universe. The survey will complement a number of other Herschel key projects including large cosmological surveys that trace dust in the distant universe. We will use Herschel to produce images of a statistically-complete sample of 323 galaxies at 250, 350, and 500 μm. The sample is volume-limited, containing sources with distances between 15 and 25 Mpc and flux limits in the band to minimize the selection effects associated with dust and with young high-mass stars and to introduce a selection in stellar mass. The sample spans the whole range of morphological types (ellipticals to late-type spirals) and environments (from the field to the center of the Virgo Cluster) and as such will be useful for other purposes than our own. We plan to use the survey to investigate (i) the dust content of galaxies as a function of Hubble type, stellar mass, and environment; (ii) the connection between the dust content and composition and the other phases of the interstellar medium; and (iii) the origin and evolution of dust in galaxies. In this article, we describe the goals of the survey, the details of the sample and some of the auxiliary observing programs that we have started to collect complementary data. We also use the available multifrequency data to carry out an analysis of the statistical properties of the sample.
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