Astronomy Picture of the Week – The Hubble eXtreme Deep Field

Oh man. Something about this is just… powerful…

Hubble eXtreme Deep Field

Hubble eXtreme Deep Field

Here’s the description from the Hubble site:

Like photographers assembling a portfolio of best shots, astronomers have assembled a new, improved portrait of mankind’s deepest-ever view of the universe.

Called the eXtreme Deep Field, or XDF, the photo was assembled by combining 10 years of NASA Hubble Space Telescope photographs taken of a patch of sky at the center of the original Hubble Ultra Deep Field. The XDF is a small fraction of the angular diameter of the full Moon.

The Hubble Ultra Deep Field is an image of a small area of space in the constellation Fornax, created using Hubble Space Telescope data from 2003 and 2004. By collecting faint light over many hours of observation, it revealed thousands of galaxies, both nearby and very distant, making it the deepest image of the universe ever taken at that time.

The new full-color XDF image reaches much fainter galaxies, and includes very deep exposures in red light from Hubble’s new infrared camera, enabling new studies of the earliest galaxies in the universe. The XDF contains about 5,500 galaxies even within its smaller field of view. The faintest galaxies are one ten-billionth the brightness of what the human eye can see.

Magnificent spiral galaxies similar in shape to our Milky Way and the neighboring Andromeda galaxy appear in this image, as do the large, fuzzy red galaxies where the formation of new stars has ceased. These red galaxies are the remnants of dramatic collisions between galaxies and are in their declining years. Peppered across the field are tiny, faint, more distant galaxies that were like the seedlings from which today’s striking galaxies grew. The history of galaxies — from soon after the first galaxies were born to the great galaxies of today, like our Milky Way — is laid out in this one remarkable image.

Hubble pointed at a tiny patch of southern sky in repeat visits (made over the past decade) for a total of 50 days, with a total exposure time of 2 million seconds. More than 2,000 images of the same field were taken with Hubble’s two premier cameras — the Advanced Camera for Surveys and the Wide Field Camera 3, which extends Hubble’s vision into near-infrared light — and combined to make the XDF.

“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,” said Garth Illingworth of the University of California at Santa Cruz, principal investigator of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field 2009 (HUDF09) program.

The universe is 13.7 billion years old, and the XDF reveals galaxies that span back 13.2 billion years in time. Most of the galaxies in the XDF are seen when they were young, small, and growing, often violently as they collided and merged together. 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.

That link I included above? There, you can open and download the .tiff image, which is the largest, highest-resolution available for this image. And while you stare at it, listen to Neil deGrasse Tyson talk about what is objectively the most astounding fact:


  1. Johnny Vector says

    Yay, it’s good to see cool stuff still coming from the Advanced Camera for Surveys. That one was a bugger to fix when it broke. We had 20 months to come up with a fix for something not designed to be disassembled in space. But my astronauts (Big John Grunsfeld and Rockin’ Drew Feustel*) did it up big time.

    *Not their actual nicknames, but given Grunsfeld’s later career at NASA HQ and Feustel’s solos when he sat in with my band, they are appropriate.

  2. says

    Also… you work on it?!? Dude… I envy you so much! That camera is the best part of Hubble. I adore the images that come from it so much!

  3. Johnny Vector says

    Yes, HRC remains offline. We weren’t sure our approach would fix it, because we couldn’t tell where the fault was exactly. We figured we had about a 50% chance of getting it going again, and it was just a few more wires (and no added risk) to make the attempt. But the real prize was WFC, so we were all jazzed when that came back.

    Yeah, I was lead systems engineer for the ACS repair. My first job after being promoted to systems engineer. I felt a lot like how Geoff Emerick describes feeling after being asked, at age 18, to be the recording engineer for the Beatles (I was reading his book at the time, so it struck me rather particularly.) But I had a couple of Tomorrow Never Knows* moments, and it worked out okay.

    *Where, first thing Lennon says to Emerick after Martin tells the boys that Emerick is replacing Parsons as engineer is “I want to sound like the Dalai Lama singing on a mountaintop two miles away.” Um, what? So Emerick routes John’s vocals through a Leslie cabinet and mics that. It made John very happy. We had some similarly loosely-defined constraints (cause hey, we can’t exactly look at it to see what’s wrong!)

  4. Rob Grigjanis says

    what is objectively the most astounding fact

    Dunno about ‘objectively’. To me, the most astounding things are a couple which are still not fully understood; hadronization and matter-antimatter asymmetry. The first gives us protons and neutrons (and other stuff). The second ensures there’s a bit of matter left over to start forming the stuff we see, including, eventually, camera-constructing apes.

  5. says

    Heh… I was being somewhat facetious. It’s only “objective” insofar as you can objectively say that I consider it to be the most astounding fact. It’s really subjective, though…

  6. StevoR says

    Superluminous image and great clip.

    Still miss Carl Sagan and prefer him to Neil deGrasse Tyson but yeah. Excellent. Cheers.

    We are stardust.

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