An international team of astronomers has completed an incredible series of infrared observations using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, looking toward the very beginning of the universe.
Astronomers have been trying to understand the origin of galaxies for a very long time, but the formation happened in an epoch that even our best instruments can’t probe very well.
To overcome the technical limitation of telescopes, scientists started the Frontier Fields Project, which uses a phenomenon called gravitational lensing to allow us to see more than 13 billion light-years into the universe by looking at six massive galaxy clusters. When large masses are close to each other, they bend space-time and can magnify the light from background objects just like a glass lens.
"The Frontier Fields has been an entirely community-led project, which is different from the way many projects of this magnitude are typically pursued," said Lisa Storrie-Lombardi of the Spitzer Science Center in a statement. "People have gotten together and really embraced Frontier Fields."
The Abell 2744 cluster as seen in visible light. NASA, ESA, and J. Lotz, M. Mountain, A. Koekemoer, and the HFF Team
The Hubble Space Telescope looked at the six massive galaxy clusters for 103 hours, with more telescopes also joining the project. NASA’s Chandra has been providing an X-ray view of the six systems, highlighting the hot gas surrounding the clusters and the active black holes found in the regions.
The Spitzer telescope, meanwhile, focused on the infrared spectrum, producing detailed estimates of stellar populations the mass of these distant galaxies. The Spitzer data has now been released in a series of papers, and the entire data set called ASTRODEEP is available to view.
"Spitzer has finished its Frontier Fields observations and we are very excited to get all of this data out to the astronomical community," said Peter Capak, the Spitzer lead for the Frontier Fields project. "With the Frontier Fields approach, the most remote and faintest galaxies are made bright enough for us to start to say some definite things about them, such as their star formation histories."