It helps to put things in perspective here on our frenetic little planet with a look at this extraordinarily powerful and moving video of the Hubble Space Telescope mapping of the Universe, whose known size is 78 billion light years across.
The video of the images is the equivalent of using a "time machine" to
look into the past to witness the early formation of galaxies, perhaps
less than one billion years after the universe's birth in the Big Bang.
The video includes mankind's deepest, most detailed optical view of the universe called the Hubble Deep Field (HDF). One of the stunning images was assembled from 342 separate exposures taken with the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2) for ten consecutive days.
Representing a narrow "keyhole" view stretching to the visible
horizon of the universe, the HDF image covers a speck of the sky only
about the width of a dime located 75 feet away. Though the field is a
very small sample of the heavens, it is considered representative of
the typical distribution of galaxies in space because the universe,
statistically, looks largely the same in all directions. Gazing into
this small field, Hubble uncovered a bewildering assortment of at least
1,500 galaxies at various stages of evolution.
Most of the galaxies are so faint (nearly 30th magnitude or about four-billion times fainter than can be seen by the human eye) they have never before been seen by even the largest telescopes. Some fraction of the galaxies in this menagerie probably date back to nearly the beginning of the universe.
"The variety of galaxies we see is amazing. In time these Hubble data could turn out to be the double helix of galaxy formation. We are clearly seeing some of the galaxies as they were more than ten billion years ago, in the process of formation," said Robert Williams, Director of the Space Telescope Science Institute Baltimore, Maryland. "As the images have come up on our screens, we have not been able to keep from wondering if we might somehow be seeing our own origins in all of this."
Essentially a narrow, deep "core sample" of sky, the HDF is analogous
to a geologic core sample of the Earth's crust. Just as a terrestrial
core sample is a history of events which took place as Earth's surface
evolved, the HDF image contains information about the universe at many
different stages in time. Unlike a geologic sample though, it is not
clear what galaxies are nearby and therefore old, and what fraction are
very distant and therefore existed when the universe was newborn. "It's
like looking down a long tube and seeing all the galaxies along that
line of sight. They're all stacked up against one another in this
picture and the challenge now is to disentangle them," said Mark
Dickinson of the HDF team.
Nearly a year of preparation preceded the observation. The HDF team selected a piece of sky near the handle of the Big Dipper (part of the northern circumpolar constellation Ursa Major, the Great Bear). The field is far from the plane of our Galaxy and so is "uncluttered" of nearby objects, such as foreground stars. The field provides a "peephole" out of the galaxy that allows for a clear view all the way to the horizon of the universe.
Selected and posted by the Galaxy editorial team.
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