NASA scientists release 'history book' Hubble Telescope galaxy images

Pablo Tucker
May 5, 2019

Since 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope has been providing astronomers and non-astronomers alike a glimpse - and think about that for just a second, because it is just a glimpse - of those vast, perhaps unknowable, mysteries, triggering the imaginations of anyone who has ever looked on the star-painted skies with awe.

The Hubble focuses on areas in deep outer space "where some of the most profound mysteries are still buried in the mists of time". It combines whirling, pinwheeling arms with scatterings of sparkling stars, glowing bursts of gas, and dark, weaving lanes of cosmic dust, creating a truly awesome sight - especially when viewed through a telescope such as the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The image, a combination of almost 7,500 separate Hubble exposures, contains roughly 265,000 galaxies.

Dr Pieter van Dokkum, the Sol Goldman Family Professor of Astronomy at Yale and co-investigator on the team that assembled the image, said: 'Hubble has looked at this area of the sky many times over many years, and now we have combined all these photographs into a single, very high-quality, wide-angle image.

"This one image contains the full history of the growth of galaxies in the Universe, from their time as "infants" to when they grew into fully-fledged "adults". Of those, 100 of them were some of the most distant known at the time, existing when the universe was just 800 million years old.

"Now that we have gone wider than in previous surveys, we are harvesting many more distant galaxies in the largest such dataset ever produced", says Garth Illingworth of the University of California, Santa Cruz, and leader of the team.

The wavelength range of this image stretches from ultraviolet to near-infrared light, capturing all the features of galaxy assembly over time.

The imae yields a huge catalog of distant galaxies.

This full view of the Hubble Legacy Field shows the uneven edges cropped out of the "cleaner" image, above, showing off all of the roughly 265,000 galaxies contained in the composite.

The project got its start in 1995 when the telescope snapped its first and famous Hubble Deep Field image. Hubble has spent more time on this tiny area than on any other region of the sky, totaling more than 250 days.

The image covers a stretch of sky about the size of the full moon seen here on Earth and was created from 7,500 individual exposures.

And much as it shows evolution, the image also reveals galactic fossils and death during the early universe, when the universe was smaller and galaxies collided and merged.

The Hubble Space Telescope orbiting Earth in May 2009.

Researchers will continue adding to and improving the picture with new Hubble observations as long as the telescope is operational.

The Hubble observes ultraviolet wavelengths, which the atmosphere filters out, and it collects visible light.

In the image is a range of different sorts of observations - different light interpreted in many different ways. Webb's infrared coverage will go beyond the limits of Hubble and Spitzer to help astronomers identify the first galaxies in the universe.

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