NASA: Hubble peers 13 billion years back in cosmic history

Upgraded telescope captures images of 7,500 galaxies - some from 13 billion-plus years ago

Less than a year after getting a major overhaul, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has snapped panoramic, full-color images that let astronomers peer more than 13 billion years back into cosmic history.

The newly souped-up Hubble telescope is acting as something of a time machine that allows scientists to see galaxies as they were billions of years ago. Hubble captured images in September and October that have been stitched together to show 7,500 galaxies stretching back through most of the universe's history.

"With the rejuvenated Hubble and its new instruments, we are now entering unchartered territory that is ripe for new discoveries," said Garth Illingworth of the University of California and leader of the survey team. "The deepest-ever, near-infrared view of the universe has now been combined with the deepest-ever optical image to push back the frontiers of the searches for the first galaxies and to explore their nature."

NASA said the closest images captured by the telescope emitted their observed light about a billion years ago. The furthest galaxies photographed, which appear as very faint red specks in the images, are seen as they appeared more than 13 billion years ago, or roughly 650 million years after the Big Bang.

The space agency also pointed out that without the Hubble upgrades completed last spring, the telescope could not have captured such intricate images. The newly installed Wide Field Camera 3 is credited with expanding the capabilities to allow capture of such faraway images.

Last May, the seven-astronaut crew of the NASA space shuttle Atlantis rendezvoused with Hubble and conducted five spacewalks to repair and upgrade the telescope.

The flight team replaced all six of the Hubble's gyroscopes and all six of its batteries. The astronauts also replaced a computer unit that had failed months earlier.

The team also restored a broken-down wide-field imaging camera, while also installing another new, more powerful one. Similarly, the astronauts fixed an existing Imaging Spectrograph while installing a new one. NASA calls the spectrograph is its primary black-hole hunter .

NASA expects the upgrades to keep the orbiting telescope running for at least another five years. Hubble has been aloft for about 20 years so far.

During its time in orbit, Hubble's discoveries have been so important that they have forced academics to revise astronomy text books. It took deep photographs of the universe and captured images of the birth and death of stars .

The telescope has played a key role in the discovery that the universe, driven by a mysterious force called dark energy, is expanding at an accelerating rate. And Hubble also showed that most galaxies in the universe contain massive black holes .

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Sharon Gaudin

Computerworld (US)
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