“Hubble isn’t just a satellite; it’s about humanity’s quest for knowledge,” said astronaut and former NASA Chief Scientist, John M. Grunsfeld about the iconic space telescope. Looking at Hubble’s ground-breaking “Deep Field” images that show the most distant galaxies that can be observed in visible light leaves us feeling like something else is going about its business out there.
Transformed Our View of Where We Are
“We are born into the world like actors who are placed on a stage without a script. The Hubble Space Telescope has transformed our understanding of that stage,” wrote Harvard astronomer, Avi Loeb in an email to The Daily Galaxy. “From discovering four moons around Pluto to gorgeous images of the delivery rooms of young stars and planets, to the accelerated expansion of the universe at large, this telescope transformed our view of where we are to the realm of the magnificent.”
Hubble’s images of faint galaxies, observed ESA, “give ‘fossil’ clues as to how the Universe looked in the remote past and how it may have evolved with time. The Deep Fields gave astronomers the first really clear look back to the time when galaxies were forming. The first deep fields – Hubble Deep Field North and South – gave astronomers a peephole to the ancient Universe for the first time, and caused a revolution in modern astronomy.
The Ultra Deep Field –“A Peephole to the Ancient Universe”
“Subsequent deep imagery from Hubble, including the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, has revealed the most distant galaxies ever observed. Because of the time it has taken their light to reach us, we see some of these galaxies as they were just half a billion years after the Big Bang.”
This view of nearly 10,000 galaxies is one the deepest visible-light image of the cosmos. This galaxy-studded view represents a “deep” core sample of the universe, cutting across billions of light-years. The snapshot, reports NASA, “includes galaxies of various ages, sizes, shapes, and colors. The smallest, reddest galaxies, about 100, may be among the most distant known, existing when the Universe was just 800 million years old. The nearest galaxies – the larger, brighter, well-defined spirals and ellipticals – thrived about 1 billion years ago, when the cosmos
Software Glitch Triggers “Safe Mode”
On Sunday, NASA announced that the Hubble Space Telescope, after three decades of service, had gone into safe mode once again, “due to an onboard software error,” which means the telescope stops pointing toward targets and collecting data, and makes sure its solar panels continue to keep it powered. The telescope’s science systems, reports NASA, were not affected, but all science operations were suspended while crews on the ground worked to fix the problem.
“After a few years in flight with all the refurbishes, engineers reevaluated the survivability and reliability of the instruments and started pushing everything much further out,” says Tom Brown, the head of the Hubble Space Telescope mission office at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, about Hubble’s aging hardware, last serviced directly in 2009 by space shuttle astronauts, and engineers who estimated back then that it would last until around 2016. “The most recent estimates say that there’s an excellent chance we’re going to be doing science like we do today until at least 2026, and perhaps the whole decade. It’s looking pretty good right now.”
First Repair in 1993 –Paved Way to Deep Field Images
Ironically, the idea for the Hubble Deep Fields originated in results from the first deep images taken after its first repair in 1993. The first Deep Field, reports NASA, was observed over 10 consecutive days during December,1995. These images showed almost 3000 galaxies. Scientists analyzed the image statistically and found that the HDF represented a narrow ‘keyhole’ view stretching to the visible horizon of the Universe. The Deep Field image covers a speck of the sky only about the width of a dime 75 feet away –a very small sample of the heavens but it is considered representative of the typical distribution of galaxies in space
The Hubble Ultra Deep Field image released in 2004, says NASA, is the deepest portrait of the visible Universe ever achieved by humankind. According to NASA the image, revealed some of the first galaxies to emerge from the “dark ages”, the time shortly after the Big Bang when the first stars reheated the cold, dim universe. The 2004 image used the improved capabilities of the Advanced Camera for Surveys, the camera installed during the 2002 servicing mission, to observe the new Deep Field in the constellation of Fornax (the Furnace).
“Lost Light” — New Version of Hubble’s Deep Image
The recently re-reduced version of Hubble’s Ultra Deep Field WFC3/IR data shown at the top of the page was published by researchers at the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias. Compared to the original Hubble Ultra Deep Field, this image recovers a large quantity of light around the largest galaxies. To produce the image, a team led by Alejandro S. Borlaff at NASA’s Ames Research Center developed a pipeline called ABYSS which optimizes the estimate and modelling of low-level systematic effects propogated when combining individual images in the mosaic. The light recovered around Galaxies revealed some were up to twice their original sizes. The ABYSS Hubble Ultra-Deep Field provides us with the deepest look into the cosmos yet.
Editor, Jackie Faherty, astrophysicist, Senior Scientist with AMNH. Jackie was formerly a NASA Hubble Fellow at the Carnegie Institution for Science. Aside from a love of scientific research, she is a passionate educator and can often be found giving public lectures in the Hayden Planetarium. Her research team has won multiple grants from NASA, NSF, and the Heising Simons foundation to support projects focused on characterising planet-like objects. She has also co-founded the popular citizen science project entitled Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 which invites the general public to help scan the solar neighbourhood for previously missed cold worlds. A Google Scholar, Faherty has over 100 peer reviewed articles in astrophysical journals and has been an invited speaker at universities and conferences across the globe. Jackie received the 2020 Vera Rubin Early Career Prize from the American Astronomical Society, an award that recognises scientists who have made an impact in the field of dynamical astronomy and the 2021 Robert H Goddard Award for science accomplishments.