Hubble looks deeper into the cosmos

Enlarge Image credit: NASA, ESA, G. Illingworth (UCO/Lick Observatory and the University of California, Santa Cruz), R. Bouwens (UCO/Lick Observatory and Leiden University), and the HUDF09 Team MORE IMAGES

The Hubble Space Telescope has taken advantage of its beefed-up hardware to peer deep into the universe, spotting galaxies that existed just 600 million years or so after the big bang. In the image above, the faint, red objects are the most distant, but countless closer galaxies are discernible, as well.

The image comprises 48 hours of exposure time on Hubble's new Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3), stretched out over a four-day period in August. In May, shuttle astronauts paid Hubble what will likely be its final visit by Earthlings, installing WFC3 and repairing or replacing a number of other instruments and parts. With the space shuttle scheduled for retirement next year and no replacement astronaut launcher at the ready, NASA's hope was to maximize the telescope's longevity and scientific usefulness, giving it another five to 10 years of operational life.

Hubble's ability to peer into the early cosmos and reveal what a typical slice of the universe looks like at depth has been a boon to astronomers for years. In 1996, the space telescope produced the so-called Hubble Deep Field image with WFC3's predecessor, the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2. And in 2004, another Hubble camera, the Advanced Camera for Surveys, took an even deeper look into the universe with the Hubble Ultra Deep Field.

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