A New Survey Takes the Hubble Deep Field to the Next Level, Analyzing Distance and Properties of 1,600 Galaxies

Since its deployment in 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope has given us some of the richest and most detailed images of our Universe. Many of these images were taken while observing a patch of sky located in the Fornax constellation between September 2003 and January 2004. This region, known as the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF), contains an estimated 10,000 galaxies, all of which existed roughly 13 billion years ago.

Looking to this region of space, multiple teams of astronomers used the MUSE instrument on the ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) to discover 72 previously unseen galaxies. In a series of ten recently released studies, these teams indicate how they measured the distance and properties of 1600 very faint galaxies in the Ultra Deep Field, revealing new information about star formation and the motions of galaxies in the early Universe.

The original HUDF images, which were published in 2004, were a major milestone for astronomy and cosmology. The thousands of galaxies it observed were dated to less than just a billion years after the Big Bang, ranging from 400 to 800 million years of age. This area was subsequently observed many times using the Hubble and other telescopes, which has resulted in the deepest views of the Universe to date.

One such telescope is the European Southern Observatory‘s (ESO) Very Large Telescope, located in the Paranal Observatory in Chile. Intrinsic to the studies of the HUDF was the Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE), a panoramic integral-field spectrograph operating in the visible wavelength range. It was the data accumulated by this instrument that allowed for 72 new galaxies to be discovered from this tiny area of sky.

The MUSE HUDF Survey team, which was led by Roland Bacon of the Centre de recherche astrophysique de Lyon (CRAL) and the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), included members from multiple European observatories, research institutes and universities. Together, they produced ten studies detailing the precise spectroscopic measurements they conducted of 1600 HUDF galaxies.

This was an unprecedented accomplishment, given that this is ten times as many galaxies that have had similar measurements performed on them in the last decade using ground-based telescopes. As Bacon indicated in an ESO press release:

MUSE can do something that Hubble can’t — it splits up the light from every point in the image into its component colors to create a spectrum. This allows us to measure the distance, colors and other properties of all the galaxies we can see — including some that are invisible to Hubble itself.

The galaxies detected in this survey were also 100 times fainter than any galaxies studied in previous surveys. Given their age and their very dim and distant nature, the study of these 1600 galaxies is sure to add to any already very richly-observed field. This,in turn, can only deepen our understanding of how galaxies formed and evolved during the past 13 billions years.

The 72 newly-discovered galaxies that the survey observed are known as Lyman-alpha emitters, a class of galaxy that is extremely distant and only detectable in Lyman-alpha light. This form of radiation is emitted by excited hydrogen atoms, and is thought to be the result of ongoing star formation. Our current understanding of star formation cannot fully explain these galaxies, and they were not visible in the original Hubble images.

Thanks to MUSE’s ability to disperse light into its component colors, these galaxies became more apparent. As Jarle Brinchmann – an astronomer at the University of Leiden and the University of Porto’s (CAUP) Institute of Astrophysics and Space Sciences, and the lead author of one of the papers – described the results of the survey:

MUSE has the unique ability to extract information about some of the earliest galaxies in the Universe — even in a part of the sky that is already very well studied. We learn things about these galaxies that is only possible with spectroscopy, such as chemical content and internal motions — not galaxy by galaxy but all at once for all the galaxies!

Another major finding of this survey was the systematic detection of luminous hydrogen halos around galaxies in the early Universe. This finding is expected to give astronomers a new and promising way to study how material flowed in and out of early galaxies, which was central to early star formation and galactic evolution. The series of studies produced by Bacon and his colleagues also indicate a range of other possibilities.

These include studying the role faint galaxies played during cosmic reionization, the period that took place between 150 million to billion years after the Big Bang. It was during this period, which followed the “dark ages” (380 thousand to 150 million years ago) that the first stars and quasars formed and sent ionizing radiation throughout the early Universe. And as Roland Bacon explained, the best may yet be to come:

Remarkably, these data were all taken without the use of MUSE’s recent Adaptive Optics Facility upgrade. The activation of the AOF after a decade of intensive work by ESO’s astronomers and engineers promises yet more revolutionary data in the future.”

Even before Einstein proposed his groundbreaking Theory of General Relativity – which established that space and time are inextricably linked – scientists have understood that probing deeper into the cosmic field is to also probe farther back in time. The farther we are able to see, the more we are able to learn about how the Universe evolved over the course of billions of years.

Further Reading: ESO

The New and Improved Hubble Ultra Deep Field

It’s perhaps one of the most famous images in astronomy. The Hubble Ultra Deep Field displays nearly 10,000 galaxies across the observable Universe in both visible and near-infrared light. The smallest, reddest galaxies are among the youngest known, existing when the Universe was just 800 million years old.

But now, with the addition of ultraviolet light the renowned image is even better than ever.

“We’ve taken new observations with the Hubble Space Telescope and made a new image of this very famous region of the sky — the Hubble Ultra Deep Field — which gives us one of the most comprehensive pictures of galaxy evolution ever obtained,” said Harry Teplitz from Caltech, in a talk presented at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Boston today.

The image has undoubtedly captured the minds of amateurs and provided astronomers with a wealth of data, from which to study galaxies in their most primitive stages.

But there was a caveat: without ultraviolet light, which tells us about the youngest and hottest stars, there was a significant gap in our understanding of these forming galaxies. Between 5 and 10 billion light-years away from us — corresponding to a time period when most of the stars in the Universe were born — we were left in the dark.

Compare the new image to an older version:

The original Hubble Ultra-Deep Field (Credit NASA, ESA, and S. Beckwith (STScI) and the HUDF Team).
The original Hubble Ultra-Deep Field (Credit NASA, ESA, and S. Beckwith (STScI) and the HUDF Team).

Now, with the addition of ultraviolet data to the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, astronomers can see unobscured regions of star formation throughout this time period. It will help us understand how galaxies grew in size from small collections of very hot stars — now visible across the observable Universe — to the elegant structures we see today.

Here’s a ‘pan and zoom’ video version of the new image:

For more information on the new and improved Ultra Deep Field, check out the HubbleSite.

Hubble Census Unveils Galaxies Shining Near Cosmic Dawn

This new image of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF) 2012 campaign reveals a previously unseen population of seven faraway galaxies, which are observed as they appeared in a period 350 million to 600 million years after the Big Bang. Credit: NASA, ESA, R. Ellis (Caltech), and the UDF 2012 Team

Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have spotted some of the most distant, dim and ancient galaxies ever detected in a new survey. The images, taken with Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC 3) looks further back in time than any previous Hubble observation, providing information about the conditions in the early Universe.

“This is like a scientific version of the story of Genesis,” said astronomer Avi Loeb from Harvard University.

The seven distant galaxies represent a previously unseen population of galaxies that formed more than 13 billion years ago, when the Universe was less than 3 percent of its present age. In these deepest images to date from Hubble, astronomers were able to take a sample of the amount of galaxies at the time. The results show a smooth decline in the number of galaxies with increasing look-back time to about 450 million years after the Big Bang.

The data provides the first reliable census of this uncharted period of cosmic history, according to the scientists. As astronomers look even deeper into the Universe, galaxy numbers appear to drop off smoothly leading them to believe that the “cosmic dawn” was gradual, not a dramatic event.

“Observations of the microwave afterglow from the Big Bang tell us that reionization happened more than about 13 billion years ago,” said Brant Robertson of the University of Arizona in Tucson, a member of the survey team. “Our data confirms that reionization was a drawn-out process occurring over several hundred million years with galaxies slowly building up their stars and chemical elements. There wasn’t a single dramatic moment when galaxies formed; it was a gradual process.”

These galaxies were found as part of an ambitious Hubble survey of an intensively studied patch of sky known as the Ultra Deep Field (UDF), which was originally taken in 2003-2004, focusing in on a small area in the sky in the constellation Fornax. In the new 2012 campaign, called UDF 2012, a team of astronomers led by Richard Ellis of the California Institute of Technology used the WFC3 to peer deeper into space in near-infrared light than any previous Hubble observation. The observations were made over a period of six weeks during August and September 2012, and the first scientific results are now appearing in a series of scientific papers. The UDF 2012 team is publicly releasing these unique data, after preparing them for other research groups to use.

“Hubble is achieving just great science,” said John Grunsfeld, former astronaut and NASA’s associate administrator for science, speaking at a briefing about the new survey. “This is an origins story, where we’re going back to the beginning, back to the first stars that appeared in the Universe. This validates that when we get James Webb Space Telescope online it will have a lot to look at and a lot to do.”

The James Webb Space Telescope is slated to launch in 2018.

Astronomers detected seven galaxies in the time period 400-600 million years after the Big Bang. All extremely distant, they ranged in distance with redshifts from 8.6 to nearly 12.

Astronomers study the distant universe in near-infrared light because the expansion of space stretches ultraviolet and visible light from galaxies into infrared wavelengths, a phenomenon called “redshift.” The more distant a galaxy, the higher its redshift.

Notably, one of the galaxies may be a distance record breaker, observed 380 million years after the birth of our universe in the Big Bang, corresponding to a redshift of 11.9. This is the galaxy UDFj-39546284, which was previously detected and was originally suggested as the most distant object ever found nearly two years ago by Hubble. Later observations put it at a redshift of 10.3, but the newly refined observations put it even more distant.

A timeline of the Universe and our observations of it. Credit: University of Arizona.

Scientists think that the universe began with the Big Bang about 13.7 billion years ago. Hydrogen formed about 400,000 years later but with no stars, spacetime was dark. About 200 million years later, hydrogen clouds collapsed forming the first stars and galaxies; what astronomers call the “cosmic dawn.” Light from these new stars began breaking down hydrogen into protons and electrons during a time period called cosmic reionization. In the present universe, scientists see galaxies growing in mass and size with the synthesis of elements, leading to the formation of complex molecules including the components to create life. Our Sun and solar system formed just over 4 billion years ago.

“The team pushed Hubble to its limits. This is probably the farthest back Hubble can look, according to the study leader, Richard Ellis. “We are pushing Hubble well beyond what it was designed to do.”

Read more about the findings and the HUDF 2012 Campaign at the HubbleSite.

Read the team’s paper: The Abundance of Star-Forming Galaxies in the Redshift Range 8.5 to 12: New Results from the 2012 Hubble Ultra Deep Field Campaign

Additional Sources: CalTech ESA Hubble

Hubble Goes to the eXtreme in Stunning New Deepest View Ever of the Universe

The Hubble eXtreme Deep Field (XDF) combines Hubble observations taken over the past decade of a small patch of sky in the constellation of Fornax. With a total of over two million seconds of exposure time, it is the deepest image of the Universe ever made. Credit: credit: NASA, ESA, G. Illingworth, D. Magee, and P. Oesch (University of California, Santa Cruz), R. Bouwens (Leiden University), and the HUDF09 Team

Oh my! The Hubble Space Telescope has just outdone itself, taking the deepest-ever view of the Universe. But the new image really is a compilation of work over the past ten years, as the eXtreme Deep Field, or XDF was assembled by combining ten years of observations, with over 2 million seconds of exposure time, taken of a patch of sky in the center of the original Hubble Ultra Deep Field from 2004. The XDF is a small fraction of the angular diameter of the full Moon.

The new full-color XDF image is even more sensitive than the Hubble Ultra Deep Field image from 2004 and the original Hubble Deep Field image from 1995. The new XDF image contains about 5,500 galaxies, even within its smaller field of view. The faintest galaxies are one ten-billionth the brightness that the unaided human eye can see.
Continue reading “Hubble Goes to the eXtreme in Stunning New Deepest View Ever of the Universe”

Even Small Galaxies Can Have Big Black Holes

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The Hubble Space Telescope has done it again. By utilizing a slitless grism, the Wide Field Camera 3 has uncovered evidence that supermassive black holes are right at home in some very small galaxies. Apparently these central black holes began their life when their host galaxies were first forming!

“It’s kind of a chicken or egg problem: Which came first, the supermassive black hole or the massive galaxy? This study shows that even low-mass galaxies have supermassive black holes,” said Jonathan Trump, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Trump is first author of the study, which has been accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal.

It’s another cosmic conundrum. As we’ve learned, large galaxies are host to central supermassive black holes and many of them are the AGN variety. But the real puzzle is why do some smaller galaxies contain them when most do not? By taking a closer look at dwarf galaxies some 10 billion light-years away, astronomers are reaching back in time to when the Universe was about an estimated quarter of its current age.

“When we look 10 billion years ago, we’re looking at the teenage years of the universe. So these are very small, young galaxies,” Trump said.

If your mind is still wondering what a “slitless grism” is, then wonder no more. It’s part of Hubble’s WFC3 infrared camera that provides spectroscopic information. Thanks to highly detailed information on the different wavelengths of light, the Cosmic Assembly Near-infrared Deep Extragalactic Legacy Survey (CANDELS) team could achieve separate spectra from each sector of the candidate galaxies and identify emissions from black hole sources.

“This is the first study that is capable of probing for the existence of small, low-luminosity black holes back in time,” said coauthor Sandra Faber, University Professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz and CANDELS principal investigator. “Up to now, observations of distant galaxies have consistently reinforced the local findings–distant black holes actively accreting in big galaxies only. We now have a big puzzle: What happened to these dwarf galaxies?”

It’s possible they are forerunners of the massive galaxies we see today. “Some may remain small, and some may grow into something like the Milky Way,” Trump said. But this theory is a juxtaposition in itself. According to Faber, “To become big galaxies today, the dwarf galaxies would have to grow at a rate much faster than standard models predict. If they remain small, then nearby dwarf galaxies should also have central black holes. There might be a large population of small black holes in dwarf galaxies that no one has noticed before.”

But these distant little dwarfs aren’t quiet – they are actively forming new stars. According to Trump, “Their star formation rate is about ten times that of the Milky Way. There may be a connection between that and the active galactic nuclei. When gas is available to form new stars, it’s also available to feed the black hole.”

But the Hubble wasn’t the only instrument interested in the 28 small galaxy studies. The team also employed x-ray data acquired by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. To help refine their information on such small, faint objects, the data was combined to improve the signal-to-noise ratio.

“This is a powerful technique that we can use for similar studies in the future on larger samples of objects,” Trump said. “Together the compactness of the stacked OIII spatial profile and the stacked X-ray data suggest that at least some of these low-mass, low-metallicity galaxies harbor weak active galactic nuclei.”

Original Story Source: University of Santa Cruz News. For Further Reading: A CANDELS WFC3 Grism Study of Emission-Line Galaxies at z~2: A Mix of Nuclear Activity and Low-Metallicity Star Formation.

Hubble Takes a New “Deep Field” Image with Wide Field Camera 3

Hubble’s latest image is another stunner — and just look at all the galaxies! Hubble has produced a new version of the Ultra Deep Field, this time in near-infrared light and taken with the newly installed Wide Field Camera 3. This is the deepest image yet of the Universe in near-infrared, and so the faintest and reddest objects in the image are likely the oldest galaxies ever identified, and they likely formed only 600–900 million years after the Big Bang. This image was taken in the same region as the visible Ultra Deep Field in 2004, but this new deep view at longer wavelengths provides insights into how galaxies grew in their formative years early in the Universe’s history.

“Hubble has now re-visited the Ultra Deep Field which we first studied 5 years ago, taking infrared images which are more sensitive than anything obtained before,” said Dr. Daniel Stark, a postdoctoral researcher from Cambridge University. “We can now look even further back in time, identifying galaxies when the Universe was only 5 percent of its current age – within 1 billion years of the Big Bang.”

A portion of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field showing the location of a potentially very distant galaxy (marked by crosshairs).   Credit: Oxford University
A portion of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field showing the location of a potentially very distant galaxy (marked by crosshairs). Credit: Oxford University

The image was taken during a total of four days in August 2009, with 173,000 seconds of total exposure time. Since infrared light is invisible to the human eye and therefore does not have colors that can be perceived, the image is a “natural” representation that in shorter infrared wavelengths are represented as blue and the longer wavelengths as red. The faintest objects are about one billion times fainter than the dimmest visible objects seen with the naked eye.

Click here for a video zooming into the Ultra Deep Field.

“The expansion of the Universe causes the light from very distant galaxies to appear more red, so having a new camera on Hubble which is very sensitive in the infrared means we can identify galaxies at much greater distances than previously possible,” said Stephen Wilkins, from Oxford University.

Where is the new Ultra Deep Field in the sky?  Credit: HubbleSite
Where is the new Ultra Deep Field in the sky? Credit: HubbleSite

The team that took this image in August of 2009 have made it available for research by astronomers worldwide, and a multitude of astronomers have been furiously searching through the data for the most distant galaxies yet discovered. In just three months, twelve scientific papers on these new data have been submitted.

As well as identifying potentially the most distant objects yet, these new HST observations present an intriguing puzzle. “We know the gas between galaxies in the Universe was ionized (or fried) early in history, but the total light from these new galaxies may not be sufficient to achieve this,” said Andrew Bunker, from the University of Oxford.

Installation of Wide Field Camera 3 by astronauts as part of servicing mission 4. Courtesy of NASA.
Installation of Wide Field Camera 3 by astronauts as part of servicing mission 4. Courtesy of NASA.

“These new observations from HST are likely to be the most sensitive images Hubble will ever take, but the very distant galaxies we have now discovered will be studied in detail by Hubble’s successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, which will be launched in 2014,” said Professor Jim Dunlop at the University of Edinburgh.

Papers:
1. By R.J. McLure, J.S. Dunlop, M. Cirasuolo, A.M. Koekemoer, E. Sabbi, D.P. Stark, T.A. Targett, R.S. Ellis,

2. By Stephen M. Wilkins, Andrew J. Bunker, Richard S. Ellis, Daniel Stark, Elizabeth R. Stanway, Kuenley Chiu, Silvio Lorenzoni, Matt J. Jarvis

3. By Bunker, Andrew; Wilkins, Stephen; Ellis, Richard; Stark, Daniel; Lorenzoni, Silvio; Chiu, Kuenley; Lacy, Mark; Jarvis, Matt; Hickey, Samantha,

Sources: Oxford University, Space Telescope Center