By combining 10 years of photographs taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, NASA has created a view of our universe that stretches back further in time than ever before. Called the eXtreme Deep Field, or XDF, the photograph “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.” Even within its new smaller (but deeper) field of view, the photo contains some 5,500 galaxies.
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What’s the Big Idea?
Despite the Hubble’s large public profile, it is easy to forget how momentous its launch was. Before the space telescope became operational in 1990, “astronomers could barely see normal galaxies to 7 billion light-years away, about halfway across the universe.” Now, in our universe which is 13.7 billion years old, astronomers can detect galaxies that span back 13.2 billion years. The next-generation space telescope, NASA’s James Webb, will also be pointed in the direction of Hubble’s deep field, allowing astronomers to see even further back in time and gain an understanding of how the early universe developed.