The Deepest View of the Universe

 
Photograph by: NASA, ESA, G Illingworth (UCO/Lick Observatory and the University of California, Santa Cruz), R Bouwens (UCO/Lick Observatory and Leiden University) and the HUDF09 team. Image Source: www.nasa.gov

Photograph by: NASA, ESA, G Illingworth (UCO/Lick Observatory and the University of California, Santa Cruz), R Bouwens (UCO/Lick Observatory and Leiden University) and the HUDF09 team. Image Source: www.nasa.gov

This story was originally published in May 2014.

This one-million-second long exposure taken by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope is the deepest view of the visible universe ever achieved by humankind. It was released by NASA in March 2004. The historic photograph is actually two separate images taken by the Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) and the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-object Spectrometer (NICMOS). It reveals the first galaxies to emerge from a period called the Dark Ages, which basically refers to the time shortly after the Big Bang when the first stars reheated the cold, dark universe.

The view seen by the ACS is studded with a wide range of galaxies of various sizes, shapes, and colors. In vibrant contrast to the image’s rich harvest of classic spiral and elliptical galaxies, there is a zoo of oddball galaxies littering the field. Some look like toothpicks, others resemble links on a bracelet. A few galaxies appear to be interacting with each other. These galaxies that existed 800 million years after the Big Bang, chronicle a period when the universe was chaotic and order and structure were just beginning to emerge.

The ACS photograph is made of a series of exposures taken over the course of 400 Hubble Space Telescope orbits around Earth from 24 September 2003 to 16 January 2004. The size of a phone booth, the ACS captured ancient photons of light that began traversing the universe even before the earth existed. Photons of light from the very faintest objects arrived at a trickle of one photon per minute, as opposed to millions of photons per minute from nearer galaxies. On the other hand, the NICMOS captures the farthest galaxies ever seen, perhaps just some 400 million years after the birth of the cosmos.

The photograph contains an estimated 10,000 galaxies of all sizes, shapes and colours. Basically, the Ultra Deep Field observations represent a narrow, deep view of the cosmos, which can be likened to peering at a scene through an eight-foot-long straw.

Tags: February 2012, NASA, space photos, story behind