After scouring a specific – and incredibly vast – swath of sky for a cumulated period of 250 days spread over a staggering 16 years of activity, all in the pursuit of never-before-seen, far-flung galaxies, the Hubble Space Telescope has helped create an awe-inspiring mosaic of the deep universe, NASA announced earlier this week.
Unveiled on the space agency’s website on Thursday, the stunning Hubble view of the distant cosmos is now the “largest and most comprehensive image of the evolving universe,” NASA detailed in a Twitter post. The breathtaking mosaic was pieced together from nearly 7,500 individual photos captured by Hubble during several deep-field surveys of the sky taken across the 16 years of observation – including the famous eXtreme Deep Field (XDF) released in 2012 and which remains to this day the deepest view of the universe, as well as the 2014 Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF).
Known as the Hubble Legacy Field, the spectacular photo comprises 16 years’ worth of cosmic observations and serves as a celestial map that pinpoints the locations of roughly 265,000 ancient galaxies – or about 30 times as many as in previous deep-field views. Each tiny speck of light in the mind-blowing mosaic represents a flickering galaxy, one that has been around since the early days of the universe.
The myriad of galaxies unfolding in the new Hubble photo are approximately 13.3-billion-years-old, stretching back in time to just 500 million years after the Big Bang. Because of this, the deep-universe mosaic has been likened by astronomers to a “history book” detailing the evolution of the universe.
“This one image contains the full history of the growth of galaxies in the universe, from their time as ‘infants’ to when they grew into fully fledged ‘adults,'” Garth Illingworth, leader of the team that assembled the image, said in a statement.
Aside from offering a glorious view of the distant cosmos, imaged now in unprecedented detail by Hubble, the bewildering mosaic also chronicles the process in which galaxies are assembled and grow over time, note NASA officials.
“The portrait shows how galaxies change over time, building themselves up to become the giant galaxies seen in the nearby universe.”
In addition, the Hubble Legacy Field has the exciting potential of fueling new scientific discoveries and helping researchers unravel some of the mysteries of the universe.
“Deep-field views of galaxies such as this help astronomers to trace the expansion of the universe to develop our understanding of the underlying physics of the cosmos,” explained the European Space Agency, which operates the Hubble Space Telescope alongside NASA.
The remarkable thing about the Hubble Legacy Field is that it encompasses a stretch of sky spanning almost the width of the full moon. While the XDF, which is a part of the new celestial mosaic, did manage to peer deeper into space, it only covered less than one-tenth of the diameter of the full moon.
“Now that we have gone wider than in previous surveys, we are harvesting many more distant galaxies in the largest such dataset ever produced by Hubble,” said Illingworth, who is a researcher at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
“No image will surpass this one until future space telescopes like James Webb are launched.”
Following this incredible feat, the Hubble team is planning to put together a second mosaic of a different area of the sky, one pieced together from more than 5,200 images taken by the space telescope.