Astronomers have released an incredible image from the Hubble Space Telescope containing over 265,000 galaxies. The mosaic image has been 16 years in the making and the light of some of the galaxies it includes was emitted just 500 million years after the Big Bang.
The new set of images was put together using 7,500 individual exposures incorporating wavelengths from the ultraviolet to the near-infrared. It’s the collective work of 31 individual Hubble programs over a total of more than 250 days of continuous observations. The faintest objects in the image are one ten-billionth the brightness of what our eyes can see.
“Now that we have gone wider than in previous surveys, we are harvesting many more distant galaxies in the largest such dataset ever produced,” Garth Illingworth of the University of California, Santa Cruz, leader of the team that assembled the image, said in a statement. “No image will surpass this one until future space telescopes like James Webb are launched."
The image is a combination of the many deep-field surveys conducted by Hubble over its almost-three-decade career. The first, the iconic Hubble Deep Field, was conducted in 1995. The 2004 follow-up, the Hubble Ultra Deep field, captured nearly 10,000 previously unseen galaxies. Later on, the 2012 eXtreme Deep Field used 10 years of observations within the original Ultra Deep Field.
Before Hubble launched in 1990, astronomers had been able to see galaxies up to roughly 7 billion light-years away. Ground-based observatories have made huge leaps forward technologically and have comparable capabilities, but even 29 years on Hubble continues to produce incredible images such as this one.
The image is not just beautiful. It’s overflowing with data. It is a phenomenal resource for astronomers and a fantastic catalog of some of the most distant galaxies ever photographed. This will provide new insights into how galaxies evolved in the formative years of the cosmos.
"Such exquisite high-resolution measurements of the numerous galaxies in the catalog enable a wide swath of extragalactic study," said catalog lead researcher Katherine Whitaker of the University of Connecticut.
You can check out the zoomable version of the image and everywhere you look, you’ll find galaxies of all shapes and colors, some interacting, some quiescent, some just a smudge of light against the black of the cosmos. The Legacy Field is truly a legacy of what humanity can achieve when it comes to understanding the universe.