Hubble Space Telescope Captures Prolific Star Birth Era


Now 24, the Hubble Space Telescope is filling in an important gap in the study of star formation and evolution with the Ultraviolet Coverage of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, an image that sheds new light on stellar growth at distances of five to 10 billion light years.

Hubble composite image features 10,000 middle aged galaxies. NASA/ESA

That's where most of the stars in the expanding 13.8 billion-year-old universe were born.

The UCHUDF is a colorful composite image gathered by Hubble at ultraviolet and near-infrared wavelengths using the satellite observatory's Advanced Camera for Surveys and Wide Field Camera 3. Assembled over 841 orbits of the Earth between 2003 and 2012, the new composite image features 10,000 galaxies, whose ages date back to within a few hundred million years of the Big Bang.

As a reference, the UCHUDF updates the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, a similar composite constructed from images in the visible and near-infrared wavelengths gathered between 2003 and 2009, with detail from the ultraviolet.

"The lack of information from ultraviolet light made studying galaxies in the HUDF like trying to understand the history of families without knowing about the grade-school children," notes Harry Teplitz, the California Institute of Technology astronomer who serves as the UCHUDF principal investigator. "The addition of the ultraviolet fills in this missing range."

It's the largest, youngest and hottest stars that radiate in ultraviolet, affording a direct look at which galaxies are forming stars and where they form. Studies of the ultraviolet schemes during an intermediate period of the universe promises to deepen the understanding of how galaxies grew by forming small collections of very hot stars, according to announcements this week from NASA and the European Space Agency, which partnered to develop the space telescope.

The latest imagery will lay some ground work for future observations with the James Webb Space Telescope, Hubble's designated successor, as well.  JWST, in development for a late 2018 lift off, is expected to provide even more penetrating views of the universe at infrared wavelengths best suited for studies of the oldest, most distant star systems.

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