February 18, 2014

The Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF) shows over 10 000 galaxies in a mere 0.000024% of the sky

Hubble Ultra Deep Field 10000 galaxies

Astronomers at the Space Telescope Science Institute today unveiled the deepest portrait of the visible universe ever achieved by humankind. Called the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF), the million-second-long exposure reveals the first galaxies to emerge from the so-called "dark ages," the time shortly after the big bang when the first stars reheated the cold, dark universe. The new image should offer new insights into what types of objects reheated the universe long ago.

This historic new view is actually two separate images taken by Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) and the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-object Spectrometer (NICMOS). Both images reveal galaxies that are too faint to be seen by ground-based telescopes, or even in Hubble's previous faraway looks, called the Hubble Deep Fields (HDFs), taken in 1995 and 1998.

1. How faint are the farthest objects?
The Hubble observations detected objects as faint as 30th magnitude. The faintest objects the human eye can see are at sixth magnitude. Ground-based telescopes also can detect 30th-magnitude objects. Those objects, however, are so dim they are lost in the glare of brighter, nearby galaxies.

Searching for the faintest objects in the Ultra Deep Field is like trying to find a firefly on the Moon. Light from the farthest objects reached the Hubble telescope in trickles rather than gushers. The orbiting observatory collected one photon of light per minute from the dimmest objects. Normally, the telescope collects millions of photons per minute from nearby galaxies.

2. How many orbits did it take to make the observations?
It took 400 orbits to make the observations.

3. How many exposures were needed to make the observations?
The Hubble telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys' wide-field camera snapped 800 exposures, which equals two exposures per orbit. The exposures were taken over four months, from Sept. 24, 2003 to Jan. 16, 2004.

4. How much viewing time was needed to make all the exposures?
The 800 exposures amounted to about 1 million seconds or 11.3 days of viewing time. The average exposure time was 21 minutes.

5. How many galaxies are in the image?
The image yields a rich harvest of about 10 000 galaxies.

6. How many colors (filters) were used to make the observations?
The colors used were blue, green, red, and near-infrared. The observations were taken in visible to near-infrared light.

7. If astronomers made the Hubble Ultra Deep Field observation over the entire sky, how long would it take?
The whole sky contains 12.7 million times more area than the Ultra Deep Field. To observe the entire sky would take almost 1 million years of uninterrupted observing.

8. How wide is the Ultra Deep Field's slice of the heavens?
The Hubble Ultra Deep Field is called a "pencil beam" survey because the observations encompass a narrow, yet "deep" piece of sky. Astronomers compare the Ultra Deep Field view to looking through an eight-foot-long soda straw.

The Ultra Deep Field's patch of sky is so tiny it would fit inside the largest impact basin that makes up the face on the Moon. Astronomers would need about 50 Ultra Deep Fields to cover the entire Moon.

9. How sharp is Hubble's resolution in pinpointing far-flung galaxies in the Ultra Deep Field?
Hubble's keen vision (0.085 arc seconds.) is equivalent to standing at the U.S. Capitol and seeing the date on a quarter a mile away at the Washington monument.

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, S. Beckwith (STScI) and the HUDF Team
Explanation from: http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/archive/releases/2004/07/