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Hubble captures the most comprehensive image of the universe yet


June 9, 2014

The Hubble Space Telescope has taken a long-exposure picture of space in the ultraviolet, revealing newly formed stars and galaxies (Image: NASA/ESA)

The Hubble Space Telescope has taken a long-exposure picture of space in the ultraviolet, revealing newly formed stars and galaxies (Image: NASA/ESA)

Image Gallery (5 images)

A newly-released picture taken by the Hubble Telescope is adding more color to the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF) image by detecting thousands of galaxies in the ultraviolet spectrum. The study, called the Ultraviolet Coverage of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (UVUDF), directly imaged stars and other celestial bodies that would have been impossible to observe on the ground, and gives astronomers critical information that will prove useful as the launch of the more powerful James Webb Space Telescope approaches.

Before Hubble was launched into orbit in 1990, astronomers could only observe celestial bodies up to seven billion light-years away. Over the last two decades, we've made plenty of progress: the infrared cameras in Hubble's Ultra Deep Field survey have detected the very earliest galaxies, formed as early as 13 billion years ago; and in the meantime, ultraviolet telescope facilities on Earth have also allowed us to investigate star formation taking place in nearby galaxies.

But there's still a big gap in our knowledge. Stars that are newly formed, very massive or very hot all emit light in the ultraviolet spectrum, which is mostly filtered out by the Earth's atmosphere. As a consequence, we know relatively little about the period of time between five and ten billion years ago, when most of the stars in our universe were formed.

The Ultra Deep Field infrared and visible light image, on the left, and the newly released ultraviolet image, on the right (Image: NASA/ESA)

Luckily, though, Hubble has been equipped with the right tools to fill in the blanks. Using its Wild Field Camera 3, Hubble focused on the same patch of sky that had previously been imaged in the visible and infrared light spectra by the Ultra Deep Field survey, but this time gathering data over the ultraviolet spectrum. After collecting data over 841 orbits, the space telescope gave us a direct and unprecedented look at galaxies that would have otherwise been impossible to detect, in what is one of the most colorful images it has produced to this date.

As astronomy and physics professor Rogier Windhorst told Gizmag, the picture was taken by combining no less than 3,185 exposures, each with an average duration of 669 seconds, for a total exposure time of over 24 days per fully-exposed pixel.

Observing the skies at these wavelengths is allowing astronomers to understand which galaxies still appear to be forming stars, and where in the galaxy those stars are forming. Scientists can then use this information to better understand how galaxies form and evolve over time.

Hubble is currently the only telescope equipped to obtain this type of data over the UV spectrum. Combining its images with the infrared images that will come from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will allow us to understand much more about the history and composition of our universe, from the Big Bang up to the most recent days.

"Because its mirrors are thinly gold-coated for maximum infrared performance, JWST will not be able to image bluewards of about 600 nm, the wavelength of yellow" Prof. Windhorst told Gizmag. "Therefore, high-resolution diffraction-limited UV and blue imaging is something unique to Hubble, and something Hubble can and must do before JWST flies and before we no longer have Hubble with us."

The James Webb Space Telescope) is scheduled for launch in 2018. With an aperture of 6.5 meters (21 ft 4 in) to Hubble's 2.4 meters (7 ft 11 in), this extremely powerful instrument will use its mirrors to, among other things, look for faraway exoplanets and investigate the epoch of First Light, or the first 500 million years of star-formation after the Big Bang.

"If JWST were really to spend 600 hours on a single 'Hyperdeep' field, it would go at least six times deeper than Hubble," Windhorst told us. "For astronomers, that would be a depth fainter than 32 mag, or the brightness of 0.1 firefly if it were seen from the distance of the Moon (with the Moon assumed not there for this comparison)."

Source: Space Telescope

About the Author
Dario Borghino Dario studied software engineering at the Polytechnic University of Turin. When he isn't writing for Gizmag he is usually traveling the world on a whim, working on an AI-guided automated trading system, or chasing his dream to become the next European thumbwrestling champion. All articles by Dario Borghino

Images like these make it very difficult to believe that we are the only sentient life form in the universe. And even more difficult to believe that we are the most advanced if we are not alone.

I recommend bearing these images in mind when watching the Sirius Disclosure Project interviews compiled by Dr (medical) Steven Greer. Anyone who hasn't watched them might consider searching YouTube for the interview with the late Admiral Lord Hill-Norton - and while they are at it, Google his CV. It will probably encourage you to watch all four hours of them, as it did me.

Mel Tisdale

plus 1 Mel.

Mark Keller

beautiful! there's got to be life out there.

Hector Jimenez

When I see pictures like this it makes me realize that the universe as we call it is an infinite place no beginning no end. I don't believe any human no matter how smart they may be how many degrees they have, can fathom the expansiveness pf space and this is just a small section. When they the so called learned scientists try to tell us that this all started some four billion years ago they really don't know its just a guess. So I choose to believe that this place where we live the universe is as it is as it has been and always will be moving changing evolving and there really is no such thing as time.

Robert Anderson

I wish you the best of luck with your choice of beliefs Robert.

Personally I choose to believe there is a chocolate teapot orbiting the sun between Earth and Mars because like you, I really, really want it to be true and don't care about evidence.

Arctic Giraffe

I always have a little trouble comprehending this logic of 13 billion years ago. If we are seeing a galaxy that is 13 billion light years away near the time of the big bang, wouldn't it also be surrounded very closely by millions of other tightly packed galaxies in the much smaller universe of that time? How did we get so far away that the light from the beginning is just now getting here? I know about the inflation theory but it violates every other law of physics. I also suspect that the gravitational curving of light along with the red shift are totally distorting what we see. Why are there more red objects in the photos above that are supposed to be from the ultraviolet spectrum? Wouldn't all the added galaxies be in the blue range? A lot of this theory requires a number of unprovable assumptions. It sounds more like a big bang cult than provable science.


Robert & Bob: Watching Cosmos I get the idea that most astrophysics is not fact, or even settled theory, but contradicted guesses. The most prominent so-called facts are just the most popular theories among scientists now. They were once laughed at. And may be again.

The only thing I'm sure of is an unproved assumption that we are not alone, or the most advanced. But advancement does not denote superior intellect. Intelligence is absolute. Either you have it or you don't. It should not be confused/conflated with knowledge, i.e., ignorance is not stupidity. Given the knowledge we have the ability to understand anything/everything.

Contrary to popular practice, it's better to say "I don't know" or "I don't understand" than to pretend the opposite. Often when I press the issue I find the "teacher" doesn't know either, but is really good at faking it.

Don Duncan

Bob, Wikipedia is your friend. Realize that an unknown, but vast number of galaxies will never ever be known to us. That is because since the Big Bang, the fabric of space between us and them has been expanding more than the speed of light. The light from these galaxies will never reach us. Note that the expansion of space does not violate any physical law. Also note, that this expansion is accelerating and slowly, but surely, more and more galaxies will be undetectable from our point of view in the far future.

You are right about the distance between galaxies being much smaller than what it is today. Light from these galaxies are very faint and need better, sensitive instruments and long exposure times to see them.

Gravitational curving of light is actually an effect that can be useful to astronomers. These "distortions" are very local to a dense, massive object, e.g.., a black hole. These do not interfere with observations, unless objects are (close to) behind each other. In which case, the curving in sometimes can actually be used as a magnifying lens to peer even deeper into space than what has been possible without the curving!

Note that you haven't considered an important evidence for the Big Bang, which is the cosmic background. This faint radiation has been there since the beginning of the Big Bang and was so intense in the beginning that it prevented atoms from forming. Only when it cooled (it's still cooling) enough did atoms form. Much more information can be read on Wikipedia to convince a layman like us.

Personally, I consider the Big Bang an important piece in the understanding of the Universe. It is not there yet, I believe. The so-called "beginning" for me, is just but a "beginning" of something else that had already ended or is part of a never-ending cycle.

Fretting Freddy the Ferret pressing the Fret

Well FFFerret, wikipedia just parrots current popular theory. I am not quite a layman since I do have math and physics degrees. Spectral analysis was my specialty and after working with spectral interferences and mathematical models for years, I don't hold current theory in the same awe as the science groupies. Inflation is not provable just like dark matter and dark energy which were made up to explain away problems with current observation and ideas. How could space expand faster than the speed of light without totally distorting the light we now see? How would gravity be affected by this expansion? How could galaxies even form if space was spreading apart faster than gravity could pull matter together? Even the speed of light could have changed as it passed through clouds of gas in space over billions of years. Look up refractive index. Every attempt to justify the big bang brings up more questions than answers. You can make a mathematical model to prove anything that you can preconceive. How do you pick the right one?


I think we should make a prediction based on our current popular theories (from wikipedia) about how we might expect gravity to influence the cosmic background radiation if there really was something as ridiculous as the big bang.

Then, when we find no such evidence we could blow the whole preposterous notion completely out of the water!

Arctic Giraffe
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