Incredible Hubble Telescope 'Frontier Fields' Photo Shows Deepest-Ever View Of Universe
An incredible new photo from the Hubble Space Telescope shows the deepest-ever view of thousands of galaxies far, far away. Focusing on galaxy cluster Abell 2744, which is 3.5 billion light-years from earth, this is the first of six images which will be taken as part of Hubble's "Frontier Fields" program. Depicted in the 50-hour exposure are thousands of galaxies, some as far as 12 billion light-years away.
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"It is the deepest view of the universe ever taken," said project leader Jennifer Lotz of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md. "We're seeing things 10 or 20 times fainter than anything we've seen before."
What allows astronomers (and you at home) to see such faint objects is a phenomenon known as gravitational lensing. According to Hubble, "Gravitational lensing is a phenomenon caused by an object's influence on the space-time around it. Massive objects like galaxy clusters warp and distort this space-time. This causes light from more distant objects hidden behind this makeshift lens to be deflected and bent, leading to a bizarre array of optical effects." The phenomenon magnifies distant objects that would be otherwise impossible to see (watch the video below for a more in-depth explanation of gravitational lensing).
Hubble first looked at Abell 2744 in 2011 to study the galaxy cluster's history. Astronomers determined that the cluster had been formed by four galaxies banging into one another, causing some "weird and wonderful effects," as Hubble puts it. Astronomers gave the strange Abell 2744 the nickname Pandora's Cluster.
"Like a crash investigator piecing together the cause of an accident, we can use observations of these cosmic pile-ups to reconstruct events that happened over a period of hundreds of millions of years," astronomer Julian Merten said in 2011. "This can reveal how structures form in the Universe, and how different types of matter interact with each other when they are smashed together."
The Frontier Fields program will take five more images of galaxy clusters over the next three years, using not only data from Hubble but from the the Spitzer Space Telescope and Chandra X-Ray Observatory as well. Taken together, the three NASA telescopes are known as the Great Observatories.
"The Frontier Fields is an experiment; can we use Hubble's exquisite image quality and Einstein's theory of general relativity to search for the first galaxies?" said Space Telescope Science Institute director Matt Mountain. "With the other Great Observatories, we are undertaking an ambitious joint program to use galaxy clusters to explore the first billion years of the universe's history."
Hubble captured a total of 3,000 galaxies in this first Frontier Fields image. That sounds like a lot, but take a guess just how many galaxies there are. Well, the answer actually is "we don't really know," but if you said "something in the ballpark of a few hundred billion," you'd be close enough.
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