Hubble reveals stunning vista of unfolding galaxies


Washington: Cutting edge imaging technology on the Hubble telescope reveals an unprecedented view of the universe, showcasing more than 12 billion years of cosmic history.

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Hubble’s recent image records the universe’s most exciting formative years, from the birth of stars early on, all the way through the materialisation of the Milky Way.

The image shows a rich tapestry of 7,500 galaxies stretching back through most of cosmic history. The closest galaxies seen in the foreground emitted their observed light only 0.9 billion years ago.

The farthest galaxies, a few of the very faint red specks, are seen as they appeared more than 13 billion years ago, or roughly 650 million years after the Big Bang.

This mosaic spans a slice of space that is 10 arc minutes across in its largest diameter, or about one third the diameter of the full Moon in the sky.

Constructed from mosaics taken with the newly installed Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) in autumn 2009 and Hubble Space Telescope’s Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) in 2004, the final image combines a broad range of colours, from the ultraviolet, through visible light, into the near infrared.

Such a detailed multi-colour view of the universe has never before been assembled at such a level of clarity, accuracy, and depth.

“It’s like taking off rose-colored glasses and seeing the Universe in a whole new light, and what we’re seeing is fantastic,” says Rogier Windhorst, professor at the School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE), Arizona State University (ASU).

“We’re seeing stars on a galactic scale being born, we’re seeing galaxies in formation, galaxies replenished with new fuel for making stars… and we’re seeing it like astronomers have never seen it before,” adds Windhorst.

Acquiring this image was much more time intensive than simply pointing and shooting. The data that comes off the telescope is in a raw form that requires processing, says a SESE release.

The Science Oversight Committee designed a science program to test and demonstrate the science capabilities of the WFC3, referred to as Early Release Science (ERS) data.

Windhorst and students at the SESE have been involved in the processing and analysing the ERS data, spending the better part of July and August calibrating the data and removing background artifacts.