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Physical Chemistry

Hubble Reveals Earliest Galaxies Yet Seen

by Elizabeth K. Wilson
March 15, 2004 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 82, Issue 11

Credit: Nasa/Hubble Ultra Deep Field Team
Credit: Nasa/Hubble Ultra Deep Field Team

Peering back further into space and time than ever before, the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) captured this image of an assortment of oddly shaped galaxies forming early in the universe's history.

The new survey is sensitive enough to glimpse a period only 400 to 800 million years after the Big Bang--"within a stone's throw of the Big Bang itself," according to astronomer Massimo Stiavelli at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.

Against the backdrop of controversy over HST's possible funding cutoff by NASA, institute astronomers unveiled the new images on March 9. On hand at the event was staunch HST supporter Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), who vowed to continue her efforts to save the telescope.

Focusing on a dark section of the sky in the Fornax constellation, HST took four months to collect the data, opening a window on some 10,000 new galaxies. The images were taken using two cameras installed on HST by astronauts in 2002. Deep space images taken by a previous incarnation of HST cameras, in 1995 and 1998, went back only as far as a billion years after the Big Bang.


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