Feeds

NASA releases stunning image of our universe's distant past

A 13.2 billion year peek into the past

Intelligent flash storage arrays

Photo NASA has combined 10 years of deep-space photos to create what it dubs the "eXtreme Deep Field" (XDF), an image of a tiny slice of the sky that contains well over five thousand galaxies, some almost unimaginably ancient.

"The XDF is the deepest image of the sky ever obtained and reveals the faintest and most distant galaxies ever seen," said principal invesigator Garth Illingworth in a statement announcing the image's release.

The XDF is an upgrade to NASA's Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF) image, captured between 2003 and 2004. The HUDF, published in March 2004 and displaying a tiny slice of the sky in the constellation Fornax, contained thousands of galaxies, and was at the time the deepest peek into the past that mankind had ever achieved.

Now the Hubblers have outdone themselves with the XDF, which – even though it covers a smaller field of view than did the HUDF – contains an estimated 5,600 galaxies, with the faintest being one ten-billionth the brightness of what we puny humans can see with our unaided eyes.

The slice o' sky depicted in the XDF is in the southern hemisphere, which Hubble photographed over the last decade in 50 different imaging sessions with a total exposure time of two million seconds. The space telecope used two of its best cameras – the Advanced Camera for Surveys and Wide Field Camera 3 – to capture over 2,000 images, which NASA combined to create the XDF.

The Hubble Extreme Deep Field (XDF): an image of a small area of space created using Hubble Space Telescope data from combined Space Telescope exposures taken over a decade

Behold the XDF – and remember that each and every dot is an entire galaxy. Feeling a wee bit small, mate? (click to enlarge)

"XDF allows us to explore further back in time than ever before," Illingworth said. Far back in time, indeed. Most observers date our universe as being about 13.7 billion years old (although some disagree), and the XDF contains galaxies from as long ago as 13.2 billion years – a turbulent galaxy-forming epoch in our universe's history.

According to NASA, the youngest galaxy in the XDF was formed a mere 450 million years after the Big Bang. Considering that our Earth is generally considered to be 4.54 billion years old, a 450 million-year-old galaxy is a mere babe in the woods.

The XDF, as impressive as it is, will certainly be surpassed when the James Webb Space Telescope eventually makes its way into orbit after a fingers-crossed launch that's now scheduled for 2018. NASA plans to have the Webb survey the same patch of sky as was used to create the XDF.

Frankly, we space addicts at The Reg can hardly wait for the images that the Webb will produce. The only quest is that after the Ultra Deep Field and eXtreme Deep Field imagery, what will NASA call the next peek into the past?

We certainly hope it won't be called the "Ultimate Deep Field" – after all, if we can keep our civilization together for a bit longer, there are certain to be future telescopes that will make the Webb look like the one that Galileo pointed at Jupiter in 1609. ®

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
SECRET U.S. 'SPACE WARPLANE' set to return from SPY MISSION
Robot minishuttle X-37B returns after almost 2 years in orbit
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
You can crunch it all you like, but the answer is NOT always in the data
Hear that, 'data journalists'? Our analytics prof holds forth
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
No sail: NASA spikes Sunjammer
'Solar sail' demonstrator project binned
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
Origins of SEXUAL INTERCOURSE fished out of SCOTTISH LAKE
Fossil find proves it first happened 385 million years ago
Human spacecraft dodge COMET CHUNKS pelting off Mars
Odyssey orbiter yet to report, though - comet's trailing trash poses new threat
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.