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Hubble captures deepest ever view of the Universe

Charles Black, Founder and CEO of Sen
27 September 2012, 12:09

Sen— The Hubble Space Telescope has been looking deeper into the Universe than ever before and released a picture called the eXtreme Deep Field (XDF) showing thousands of galaxies including ones formed over 13 billion years ago - just a few hundred million years after the birth of the Universe.

Some 5,500 galaxies can be seen in the image, including spiral galaxies similar in shape to our own Milky Way. Our galactic neighbour, Andromeda, can also been seen. The large red fuzzy galaxies are those dying out, whilst the faint distant ones are young nebulae during the early part of their star producing phase.

The Universe is 13.7 billion years old and XDF captured light from a galaxy formed just 450 million years after the Big Bang, the light having taken 13.2 billion years to reach us.

The picture is based on more than 2,000 images taken by Hubble looking at the same small patch of sky, and it has taken years to create the master image. The XDF is a new and improved look at the Universe from Hubble. The earlier version called the Hubble Ultra Deep Field was imaged by Hubble in 2003 and 2004. The patch of sky pictured in the XDF is the centre of the original Hubble Ultra Deep Field, the XDF looking deeper and capturing more detail.

Light from the most distant points is only visible in the infrared wavelength, and Hubble, which carries five main instruments, used its Advanced Camera for Surveys and its Wide Field Camera 3 to create the master image. The Advanced Camera for Surveys looks at visible light whilst the Wide Field Camera 3 sees the universe in near-ultraviolet, visible and near-infrared light and operates in higher resolution than the other instruments and with a wider field of view. 

Scientists plan to update the XDF once the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is in operation. Due to launch in 2018 the JWST will have a honeycomb mirror 6.5 metres in diameter compared to Hubble's 2.5 metres. This will allow it to gather more than five and a half times as much light, and it will be looking at the infrared part of the spectrum. With its larger mirror and infrared vision, the JWST will be able to look even deeper into the past than Hubble and capture the first starlight emerging after the birth of the Universe.  

Scientists will be able to look at objects in the XDF picture as a map for further detailed study, enabling them to understand better the formation and lifecycle of galaxies.

Hubble's XDF

Hubble's XDF. NASA; ESA; G. Illingworth, D. Magee, and P. Oesch, University of California, Santa Cruz; R. Bouwens, Leiden University; and the HUDF09 Team. Click here for a larger view 

"The XDF is the deepest image of the sky ever obtained and reveals the faintest and most distant galaxies ever seen. XDF allows us to explore further back in time than ever before", explained Garth Illingworth of the University of California at Santa Cruz, principal investigator of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field 2009 program.

Hubble was launched in April 1990 and put into high orbit by the Space Shuttle Discovery. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden was among the shuttle crew for that mission.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a joint operation between NASA and the European Space Agency, ESA.