UK “Time Machine” Reveals The Formation Of Distant Galaxies

If you thought the Hubble Deep Field galaxy photo was the most incredible thing you’ve ever seen, wait until you lay eyes on the most sensitive infrared map of the distant Universe ever taken. Over the last three years, UK astronomers have compiled data from the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) in Hawaii and their results are nothing less than astounding.

Today, Dr. Sebastien Foucaud from the University of Nottingham presented his first results to the April 4 National Astronomy Meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society. These results only form part of the Ultra-Deep Survey (UDS) – an image containing over 100,000 galaxies over an area four times the size of the full Moon – and a look into the formation of the most distant galaxies yet witnessed.

The 3.8-metre (12.5-foot) UK Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) became a time machine as the world’s largest telescope dedicated solely to infrared astronomy began its Deep Sky Survey in 2005. Even now, the UDS image is but only one element of a five-part project. Due to the constraints of the speed of light, these observations allow astronomers to literally look back 10 billion years in time. The images that UKIRT produces see our Universe in its distant infancy, and the formation galaxies which date to back where we believe expansion began. The image is so large and so deep that thousands of galaxies can be studied at these early epochs for the very first time. Through the technological advance of infrared imaging, astronomers can now peer even further back in time, since light from the most distant galaxies is shifted towards redder wavelengths as it travels through the expanding Universe.

“I would compare these observations to the ice cores drilled deep into the Antarctic,” said Dr. Foucaud. “Just as they allow us to peer back in time, our ultra-deep image allows us to look back and observe galaxies evolving at different stages in cosmic history, all the way back to just 1 billion years after the Big Bang”.

One of the goals of the project is to further scientific understanding about the time frame in which rare, massive galaxies formed in the distant Universe. It is a puzzle that has simply remained unsolved. Says Dr. Foucaud: “We see galaxies 10 times the mass of the Milky Way already in place at very early epochs. Now, for the first time, we are sampling a large enough volume of the distant Universe to be able to see them in sufficient numbers and really pin down when they were formed.”

The UKIDSS Ultra-Deep Survey will, in time, give us a complete census of galaxy formation in the infrared. So far over one hundred thousand galaxies have been detected and the final image will be 100 times larger than any equivalent survey to date. Determining precise distances to faint galaxies is very difficult, requiring long hours of spectroscopy. For the faintest objects in the UDS survey this is often impossible. Instead, by using optical and infrared colors, astronomers are very effectively able separate distant galaxies from those which are nearby, and further separate them into those which are forming stars and those which are not. UKIDSS aims to discover the nearest object to the Sun (outside the solar system) as well as some of the farthest known objects in the Universe.

Does the Ultra-Deep Sky Survey images shed light on the great cosmological mystery? Only time – and distance – will tell. Professor Andy Lawrence, Principle Investigator of UKIDSS from the University of Edinburgh, said “As we keep taking images over the next few years, we will see ever more distant galaxies.”

18 Replies to “UK “Time Machine” Reveals The Formation Of Distant Galaxies”

  1. Now, what interests ME as a professional astronomer is: what are the limiting magnitudes? Which bands? How much integration time?

  2. The well-known Doppler effect of wave propagation is the principal argument of our usual view of an expanding Universe. However, a similar redshift effect of cosmic radiation results from the loss of photons by absorption onto celestial bodies. Re: My study “The Mystery of Life”,, ISBN 978.3.935176.73.6. This alternative redshift mechanism casts doubt on our usual view of the universe.

  3. The mere concept of the universe coming into existence from ‘nothing’ has never sat well with me.

    I am sure we will eventually see that nothing is something, and beyond that something is something else.

    Pity we only ‘live’ for about sixty years on average….not much time to get to furthest hill to see into the next valley…or plain…or sea…or whatever…..

    It sure is a good look tho….lol

  4. the more i read about the universe the more i find myself convinced that the whole universe is round and circling around the unknown further it could veri well be that this is not the only one it could very well be many others. leading to infinity.

  5. Our Visible Universe is only a very little portion of the real ‘Universe’…a 3-dimensional sheet of a 11(?)-dimensional one. So, don’t worry…and lets the search for the true to continue until the end of……The Universe!

  6. “UK astronomers have compiled data from the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) in Hawaii and their results are nothing less than astounding.”

    Astounding in what way? I can buy an astounding Chia pet by dialing 1-800-chia pet and having my visa card ready.

    It is astounding to see such large galaxies at such great distances. It is even more astounding if they are ‘mature’…are they?

  7. Here’s a question…if we look at those galaxies and say they were 10 billion years ago, wouldn’t they be looking at us and saying the same thing? Whose to say who is the older? Isn’t that just a bias on our part?

  8. I like the way your thinking Peter. Have you read the Holographic Universe. by Michael Talbot? I met a man who said something that changed my idea of time. He said, when we look to the Night sky we could say, ” Aren’t We beautiful”. Perhaps, We are just looking at who, and where, we were at a different place in time. HMMM…

  9. Awsome!

    Just think:
    only a genaration (or two) ago we didn’t know that there were galaxies. Today we’re looking at a 10 billion year old one!!!

    I’m anxious to see what more wonders these guys will have to show to us in 5 or 10 years!! We are almost reaching the final horizon.

    By th way, i believe that sooner or later someone, somehow, will find a way to look beyond the actual theorized visible limit.

    I just hope that that happen in my life time!!

  10. Peter, we are looking at them as they would have appeared 10 billion years ago. THe same way when they look at us today, we appear in ancient light.

    But by now probably these ancient galaxies have slipped beyong the horizon and the light they emit today would never ever make it to us.

  11. My recent paper deals with “Cosmic redshift, a phenomenon of Quantum Elexctrodynamics”

  12. In my paper I explaIn that the Hubble constant (~70 km/s per megaparsec) divided by the velocity of light (H*) represents a cosmic photon absorption coefficient amounting to 0.00023 per megaparesec or 0.00007 per million lightyears. This implies that we usually cannot look deeper into the Universe than about 14 billion lightyears, except in case of supernova explosions producing much higher surface temperatures of the cosmic radiation source than ordinary stars or galaxies.

  13. I further show in my paper that the cosmic redshift ratio corresponds to z=H/c . r and that the distance of a given cosmic radiation source corresponds to r=c/H . ln(z+1). This admits considering cosmic distances which largely exceed the postulated age of the Universe limited at ~ 14 billion lightyears according to the Big Bang hypothesis. There is no theoretical limit of the dimension of the Universe.

  14. An updatedy version of my study entitled “A different view on cosmic redshift” has been published under the aforementioned website, on August 1, 2008.

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