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eXtreme Deep field – Universe’s farthest view ever!


Yet another astounding photo by Hubble mission reveals farthest view into the universe. Called the eXtreme Deep field (XDF), it is a successor of Hubble ultra deep field image created in 2004. XDF (extreme deep field) is a full-colored image developed from photos taken by Hubble telescope over 10 years. Light captured over numerous sessions helped revealing the faintest objects with brightness as low as ten-billionth of what human eye can see. Garth Illingworth of the University of California at Santa Cruz, principal investigator of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field 2009 program said,

“The XDF is the deepest image of the sky ever obtained and reveals the faintest and most distant galaxies ever seen. XDF allows us to explore further back in time than ever before.”

Scientists explain how they assembled XDF Credit: NASA, ESA, and M. Estacion and G. Bacon (STScI)

Extreme deep field contains 5500 galaxies

Observation was confined to a patch of sky at the center of the original Hubble Ultra Deep Field as NASA’s Hubble mission page states. For a total of 50 days over past decade, Hubble telescope was repeatedly pointed at this patch. Total exposure time was 2 million seconds, capturing more than  2,000 images of the same field. Hubble’s two premier cameras were used: the Advanced Camera for Surveys and the Wide Field Camera 3, which extends Hubble’s vision into near-infrared light. Surprisingly, this small fraction of sky contains about 5500 galaxies.

Extreme deep field observation patch comparison to moon size

Light travelling for 13.2 billion years captured?

Furthermore, the eXtreme deep field reveals galaxies that span back 13.2 billion years in time. This implies light from farthest of them has traveled 13.2 billion years to reach Hubble’s cameras. Hence XDF is an important achievement when universe is supposedly 13.7 billion years old. Hubble mission’s post says,

“The early universe was a time of dramatic birth for galaxies containing brilliant blue stars extraordinarily brighter than our sun. The light from those past events is just arriving at Earth now, and so the XDF is a “time tunnel into the distant past.” The youngest galaxy found in the XDF existed just 450 million years after the universe’s birth in the big bang.”

Is there more to come?

Hubble space telescope, built collaboratively by NASA and ESA is operating since 1990 and has been upgraded 5 times. Scientists state it is still in good condition and will function through 2018. Hubble’s successor, James webb space telescope is expected to launch around 2018 by NASA. It will observe XDF even further with its infrared vision. The webb telescope will find even fainter galaxies that existed when the universe was just a few hundred million years old. So yes, there’s more to come yet.

Featured image: NASA


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