Early in Hubble’s mission, it scanned a patch of sky for 10 days to collect 342 separate images. When assembled, they became the now-famous Hubble Deep Field. NASA has updated this iconic image over the years as the telescope became more powerful, and it’s doing so again. Hubble may be inching toward obsolescence with the upcoming launch of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), but it’s still producing amazing images. The newest panoramic view of the universe shows more galaxies than ever before.
According to NASA, the new image features a whopping 15,000 galaxies, and 12,000 of them are star-forming (full image below). The original Deep Field image had a total of 3,000 galaxies, and the later 2003 Ultra-Deep Field bumped that number up to 10,000. About the same number appeared in the eXtreme Deep Field (XDF) from 2012. The new mosaic image covers an area about 14 times larger than that of the XDF.
The image contains objects as they existed up to 3 billion years after the Big Bang. It’s an exceptionally detailed view of the universe because it comes from the Hubble Deep UV (HDUV) Legacy Survey. The final image contains data from infrared up through ultraviolet. Most ultraviolet light is filtered out by Earth’s atmosphere, so you can really only do these observations in space. Hubble also has a sensitive infrared capability, and many of the most distant objects are only visible in infrared because of the redshift from the expansion of the universe.
The farther away an object is, the older it is when viewed in a telescope. The galaxies in this image all sit in a small section of sky in the direction of the northern constellation Ursa Major, but they’re distributed across billions of years.
Astronomers are particularly interested in studying the star-forming galaxies in this image. The oldest objects in the image were active during the most intense star formation events in the universe. Having both infrared and ultraviolet data sets help astronomers to track how galaxies (and therefore star formation) evolve over eons.
Hubble has performed admirably over the last quarter century, but we expected its successor to be online by now. The James Webb Space Telescope has been delayed several times, but it will possess even more sensitive optics that can scan deep into the infrared. If this is what we get with Hubble, just wait until the JWST starts operating.
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