In 1995, the Hubble Telescope team recorded the famously mind-blowing “Deep Field” image of the universe. By allowing the telescope to stare into the same area for ten consecutive days (“an area the width of a dime viewed from 75 feet away,” according to Hubble’s web site), researchers produced an image showing 1,500 galaxies. Not stars, galaxies. Amateur astronomers and various geeks the world over were knocked back in their chairs. (The wallpaper for that image is here.)
Eight years later, the Hubble team effectively said, “If you thought that was impressive, try this.” They weren’t kidding. The new image, called the “Ultra Deep Field,” required 84 days of steady observation, with the telescope pointed into an empty-appearing patch of sky.
The resulting image contains an estimated 10,000 galaxies, the farthest of which existed when the universe was a mere 400 million years old. It is one of the most awesome revelations ever produced by human endeavors, and is still being studied.
According to NASA’s Ultra Deep Field page, the image is essentially a core sample of the universe, and is akin to “peering through an eight-foot-long soda straw.”
The Ultra Deep Field observations began Sept. 24, 2003 and continued through Jan. 16, 2004. The telescope’s ACS camera, the size of a phone booth, captured ancient photons of light that began traversing the universe even before Earth existed. Photons of light from the very faintest objects arrived at a trickle of one photon per minute, compared with millions of photons per minute from nearer galaxies.
My mind is blown by “one photon per minute.” If you’d like to blow yours, spread that image across your computer monitor and take a good look. That is just a teeny, tiny speck of our universe.
(Click the photo to galaxinate. The aspect ratio is not ideal for wallpaper, but the image is such a high resolution that you can zoom it to fit your screen with no loss of quality.)