Voyaging deep into the Universe

By Phil Plait | November 7, 2008 10:46 am

The European Southern Observatory just released a picture that I can only call astonishing: the deepest ground-based look into the universe ever undertaken. It’s part of the Chandra (X-Ray Observatory) Deep Field South, an effort to map out distant regions of the Universe across the entire spectrumwith incredible resolution and depth.

The image is mostly in the near ultraviolet, or UV. It’s a total of 55 hours of observations. Despite that, like many things, at first glance it doesn’t look like much:

<img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3194/3010043797_21854020aa_o.jpg"
Click any of the images in this post to embiggen.

Sure, you see lots of stars in it, right? But the image I displayed here has been compressed; if you download the complete full-res image (warning, 32MB file!) you get a much clearer view of this field. Those dots you saw above? Those aren’t stars, they’re galaxies. Thousands of them. Tens of thousands. I don’t know how many, exactly. A lot.

Scanning the full-res image is incredible. There’s so much to see! Each dot, each smudge, is a full-blown galaxy, a collection of billions of stars. They’re very, very far away; some of these galaxies are estimated to be 10 billion light years distant; you’re seeing them as they were just a couple of billion years after the Universe itself began, and the faintest are one-billionth as bright as objects you can see with your own eye.

They come in all shapes and sizes (though the apparent size depends mostly on distance; the bigger ones are almost certainly much closer than the smaller ones). Some appear to be loners, while others group together. Here’s an interesting cluster that, from the sizes of the galaxies, is at an intermediate distance from us:

Our Milky Way is a member of a small cluster called the Local Group, and I imagine from a couple of billion light years away it looks a lot like this one. When I look at this little cluster, I can’t help but wonder if anyone is looking back.

When the Universe was younger, it was smaller, and clusters were smaller. That means collisions between galaxies were more common back then. So you expect to see a few galaxies twisted up, distorted from the impact. Guess what?

This looks like a spiral galaxy that had a smaller galaxy plow through it. Gravity warps the gas and stars into a ring surrounding the nucleus, and the gas forms new stars. These stars shine brightly, so the ring is a very obvious structure. The apparently interlocking ring to the lower left is a bit puzzling, though. It might be the interloping galaxy, torn apart by tidal stresses from the bigger galaxy, or it might be a tendril of material torn off the bigger galaxy. The perspective makes it hard to tell.

But see that faint glowing fan of material to the right? That points right to the center of the ring galaxy, and that is a pretty clear indicator it’s a jet, a focused beam of material being spewed out by the galaxy. Every big galaxy has a monster black hole in its core (ours does, too). When galaxies collide, huge amounts of gas fall to the galactic center. The physics of the situation pretty much demand that the material forms a flat disk which swirls around the black hole. Near the Final Plunge, the disk gets incredibly hot (amazingly, through friction). This hot material tries to escape, and magnetic and other forces focus it into twin beams or jets of matter and energy that scream out in opposite directions at nearly the speed of light. Galaxies like this are said to be active, an oddly understated word for the mind-numbing amount of sustained violence going on — the energy contained in those beams can be millions of times the Sun’s total output.

We’re talking cosmic blowtorches here.

Seeing a jet coming from a distorted galaxy, especially one shaped into a ring, is dead giveaway. That dude had a head on crash, and not terribly long ago. Maybe a couple of hundred million years at most.

Another fan of material is coming from a closer galaxy in the image, too:

This time the jet is fainter, but the galaxy itself looks more normal. Maybe it had a recent collision too, but the offending collider was much smaller, so the bigger galaxy doesn’t appear overtly distorted. But again, the jet points right back to the core of that nearly edge-on spiral, so it’s a pretty clear indicator of an active galaxy.

I love galaxies, but I have to say that my favorite spot on this whole ginormous picture shows not some distant collection of billions of stars, but instead a single star, one that is far, far closer:

No, not the bright one. See the little weird thing to the left of it? The things that’s green on top and reddish-pink below? That’s a nearby star, one so close that its motion across the sky caused it to blur during the few years it took to get the observations of this image! Normally, you don’t notice the stars’ motions in the sky; the constellations look pretty much the same as they did thousands of years ago. But stars do move across the sky as they follow their separate orbits around the Milky Way center. In high-magnification images, some fast-moving stars can be seen to change position. The changing colors for this star are because some exposures were made with one filter, and then later exposures with a different filter, with the star moving in the intervening time.

Unlike the galaxies billions of light years away, this star is inside our own Galaxy, most likely only a few dozen light years away at most. If it were much farther its motion would be dimmed by distance, and it would appear as rock steady as the other objects in this picture. Incidentally, I found another object blurred in a similar multi-hued way, but it looks like a galaxy. Since galaxies don’t move that quickly (they are too far away to see that motion) I think it might be a reflection inside the telescope from a bright nearby star. Such ghost images are common in deep exposures like this, and play havoc with analysis.

These are a handful of close-ups I found in a few minutes of perusing this devastating image. What will astronomers find over years of study? No doubt they’ll look at statistics of the galaxies; how close together they appear to be, how clustered they are as opposed to spread out. Once distances are found to some of these objects we can begin to learn more about how the early Universe behaved itself. We can figure out how galaxies formed at such an early time, and what the structure of the Universe was like back then.

And remember as you look at this picture: you’re seeing one teeny tiny fraction of the area of the entire sky. No matter where we look in the sky, we see galaxies splayed out like this. The cosmos is a grand place, full of wonder and delight. Exploring it is just about the noblest thing we can do.

All images credit: ESO/ Mario Nonino, Piero Rosati and the ESO GOODS Team.

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Comments (109)

  1. Andrew Campbell

    Vey cool!! And imagine, all of those galaxies only 6000 years old…

  2. theinquisitor

    As a great man once said, “Space is big, really big, I mean you just won’t believe how mind bogglingly big it is. You may think it’s a long way down the street to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space…”

  3. James

    For extra credit in my class: count the number of galaxies in this picture and determine an estimate for the # of stars here, and the possible number of planets. That should keep them busy for a while!

    Man we are small!

  4. Sam

    Thats why I LOVE astronomy. Looking out there makes you forget about all the petty things we argue about, they pale into insignificance.

    It’s such a noble goal to strive to, to learn more and explore. And yet, we sit and mope about stupid things like the differences between us.

    When I get home, I’m going to download that image and pore over it. thank you.. :-)

  5. scotth

    Hey Phil, do you know the angular size of that image? Just the size of the long side would be sufficient.

    (Geek confession, that full res image is now stored to my desktop beside a full res Hubble Ultra Deep Field and a 10 megapixel NGC7331)

  6. Quiet Desperation

    I’m just too old and jaded to be impressed by images like this anymore.

    Not to say we shouldn’t take them.

    I’m just sayin’ I’m old and tired. :-(

    Looking out there makes you forget about all the petty things we argue about, they pale into insignificance.

    Not necessarily. If we are truly alone in the universe, I feel we are pretty darn significant as the lone outpost of sentience.

  7. Nicolas

    Accprding to the article on the website Physorg, the link http://www.physorg.com/news145274563.html , the picture was taken over a time frame of 40 hours… yet you claim 50. Which is it?

  8. Nicolas
  9. Thomas Siefert

    My god…it’s full of galaxies!

  10. One instrument on a telescope took 40 hours of observations, but this was done with several different instruments, so the total was 55 hours.

  11. gojim

    These images just never cease to amaze me…

  12. Skeptic Tim

    Thanks Phil:
    That picture captured the awe and wonder that first inspired me to study astrophysics over fifty years ago: long before such depth of field could be realized! No god or gods could every equal the magnificence of the vast universe that surrounds us.

  13. Cheyenne

    Wow, I re-read that post about 3 times. Just awesome.

    I can look at that picture and think it’s neat, but have no real understanding of what it means. Then the Bad Astronomer steps in and describes what is going on. The picture goes from pretty to pretty plus real science.

    I wonder what there is more of- galaxies in that picture or articles on this blog?

  14. Damien

    Phil

    Those are beautiful images.

  15. IVAN3MAN

    Dr. Phil Plait:

    […] Those aren’t stars, they’re galaxies. Thousands of them. Tens of thousands. I don’t know how many, exactly. A lot.

    Scanning the full-res image is incredible. There’s so much to see! Each dot, each smudge, is a full-blown galaxy, a collection of billions of stars. They’re very, very far away; some of these galaxies are estimated to be 10 billion light years distant; you’re seeing them as they were just a couple of billion years after the Universe itself began, and the faintest are one-billionth as bright as objects you can see with your own eye. […]

    Exactly! That is why I cannot imagine ‘God’ in the traditional sense. I think it was the late Prof. Richard Feynman who said that the scaffolding of the Universe is too vast and complex for the sole purpose of a little Nativity play here on Earth.

    I just needed to say that. Bloody creationists!

  16. madge
  17. Harold McTestes
  18. Very nice indeed! It is particularly cool when you peruse the image for a while and then look at the entire image with all the little dots: get to know some of the galaxies, and then zoom out. Feel like a god…

  19. Todd W.

    @IVAN3MAN

    Oh, ye of little faith. If you were going to put on a play and had unlimited resources, would you just hang a curtain or really try to wow the crowd? 😛

  20. I think… “Wow” is the word I’m looking for… though my mouth just hangs open without any sound doming out…

  21. Harold McTestes

    Quoting the late, great Carl Sagan:

    “Who are we? We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people.”

    That pic certainly helps drive his point home.

  22. Todd W.

    Those galaxies aren’t actually there. Someone hung a massive star drop…err, hmm…galaxy drop that we’re seeing.

  23. PG

    This discussion brings two of my favorite quotes to my mind:

    “Few people realize the number of things that are possible.” -Richard Feynman

    “Sometimes I think we’re alone in the universe, and sometimes I think we’re not. In either case the idea is quite staggering.”
    -Arthur C. Clarke

  24. JRice

    Very cool, thanks for pointing this out.

    I have a question: This is an image of the Chandra Deep Field South portion of the sky, but I can’t figure out: eactly how much sky is that? Are we looking at a horizon-to-horizon shot? The area of the moon? A tiny little spot?

  25. Annette

    Makes me feel less lonely.

    I mean… there just has to be someone looking back… statistically speaking. I wonder if any of them had made contact with each other or we are always destined to be torn apart from our cosmic brothers due to the great distance.

  26. IVAN3MAN

    Dr. Phil Plait:

    Our Milky Way is a member of a small cluster called the Local Group, and I imagine from a couple of billion light years away it looks a lot like this one. When I look at this little cluster, I can’t help but wonder if anyone is looking back.

    Marvin The Martian Observing Earth

  27. zaardvark

    Hmm, I think my last comment didn’t make it through, because it had a link in it.

    The image is 14.1 x 26.1 arcminutes, according to the ESO website.

  28. JRice

    I don’t mean to be dense, but I’m arcminute-ignorant. Could you rephrase that in moons or something? 😉 Sorry.

  29. OtherRob

    Wish I could add something other than another “Wow,” but sometimes words just fail….

  30. JRice

    Nevermind, that was an easy enough question to answer online (29-33 arcminutes).

  31. @BA “But see that faint glowing fan of material to the right? That points right to the center of the ring galaxy, and that is a pretty clear indicator it’s a jet, a focused beam of material being spewed out by the galaxy. … This hot material tries to escape, and magnetic and other forces focus it into TWIN beams or jets of matter and energy that scream out in OPPOSITE directions at nearly the speed of light.”

    I disagree with your interpretation of the 3rd picture. The material to the right of the ring galaxy is more likely a spiral galaxy seen edge on, probably the guy who plowed through the ring galaxy. You can see the bright core of this galaxy and you can see that the supposed “jet” tapers off on both sides of it just like we would expect if we were seeing a spiral galaxy edge on. Plus, there is no equivalent jet on the left side of the ring galaxy. So it’s very doubtful that that’s a jet from a supermassive black hole in the ring galaxy.

    The 4th picture? Yeah, maybe that’s a jet coming from the galaxy above it or maybe it’s not. What is the redshift of the galaxy versus the redshift of the “jet”? It may be material in the foreground that has nothing to do with the galaxy.

  32. You look at the abyss, and the abyss looks back at you.

    I wish I could be as confident as you are, Annette, that someone is looking back at us. I think that’s just the human mind’s longing for a sense of connection to something so alien to us.

    Statistically speaking, the idea that there isn’t other *life* out there is so remote that it’s effectively nil. But intelligent life, civilization building life, like us? PG’s Aurthur C. Clarke quote said it better than I ever could. But I lean towards believing the former.

    After all, with all the grandiosity and majesty of the Universe, I have to believe it can do something more interesting than just more humans, or life-forms that take a human-like view of the world.

  33. Drew

    So I am reading this post, and really examing the second image in the set, and a question pops to mind. I know as an astronomer, you are all geeked out with the science, but really, how do you keep the woo and wonder out? Staring at those distant galaxies and just thinking that in each one, there may be one planet with intelligent life on it.
    Then I get to this sentence:
    When I look at this little cluster, I can’t help but wonder if anyone is looking back.
    Cool, so you are human after all.
    I am sorry but looking at images like this is simply too amazing for my brain to stay on track. It needs to wander, to wonder, to just be that kid who used to lay on the beach and stare at the stars at night and think about what it would be like to be up there…

    This is good stuff.

  34. Quatguy

    There is no place like home (as far as we know)!

  35. Annette

    Greg, I have to be confident in that because it is all that keeps me together sometimes. 😉 Despite being religious, religion is simply not enough to satisfy my questions, as I cannot accept “just because”. I can’t keep working hard at my earthy endeavors without the premise that there is immortality within the cosmos. That even when our star becomes a red giant and devours us, that somewhere out there another primitive being is beginning their journey.

    ……Holy cow, pictures like this obliterates my systematic scientific way of thinking and brings out the hippie philosopher in me. I get just as bad as the “physicists” in that link from The Onion that IVAN3MAN posted yesterday in another thread. 😛

  36. Harold McTestes

    @ Drew

    You’re a natural born philosopher. I feel your pain! I have to limit myself thinking about these kind of things or I’ll get sidetracked and won’t get anything done. Damn ADD!!

  37. Quatguy

    I am constantly blown away by the scale of the universe, from quarks to millions of galaxy clusters billions of light years away. It shows how insignificant we really are, but also how precious our world is as it is the only place we know of that we can live. Lets not **** it up.

  38. Okuro Oikawa

    Hi!

    Really great find! I like these pictures. I think making these pics is very important for astronomy. You should make these pictures more public because then the people begin to like astronomy and support it.

    With kind regards!
    Okuro Oikawa

  39. Tom Marking: the bright spot in the fan of material may be a background galaxy; there are so many that overlap is not surprising. There’s no way to tell. But an edge-on galaxy is typically brighter than this object as well. The alignment is also supportive of it being a jet.

  40. JoltFiend

    That is an absolutely beautiful picture. It’d make for an awesome poster and conversation piece.

  41. John Porter

    Phil, I’m curious about the significance of color in this image.
    You say “the image is mostly in the near ultraviolet,” and later, “some exposures were made with one filter, and then later exposures with a different filter.”
    To what extent is this a true-color image?
    For example, I notice that a lot of the really tiny, dim dots are reddish. Would this be related in any way to the red shift?
    Thanks,
    jdp

  42. Clayton

    waaaaaaaaa vertigo!

    I need a stiff drink.

  43. Mr M

    That’s amazing. How many of these galaxies are already known, i.e. named?

  44. Pictures like this one and the Hubble Deep Field images just spark the imagination. You may look at it once and say, “Oh, that’s interesting” but then as you zoom in on it (as Phil did in his discussion and I did briefly when I wrote about it earlier on my blog), you start to see all kinds of cool things. I never get enough of looking at these images and thinking about the millions of galaxies and billions upon billions of stars — and wondering how many planets are out there…

  45. IVAN3MAN

    In case anyone is wondering why the picture that I have posted above is not appearing, it is due to the Yahoo image source server undergoing maintenance at the time of writing this. Nuts!

  46. Old Muley

    I think the apparent size of the sun in the sky is about 32 arcminutes across. And since the image is reported to be about 14 x 26 arcminutes, you could imagine it to be roughly half-as-wide and not quite as tall as the sun in apparent size. I’m no astronomer so I could be completely wrong about all of this. Still, what an amazing amount of stuff in that little patch of sky!

  47. Todd W.

    So the next question is: About how many pictures like that would it take to cover a full sky from horizon to horizon?

  48. Annette

    Todd W: This so needs to be done if possible… but I imagine it would take forever. 😉

    ….it would be pretty sweet to then have it as a “Google Universe”
    application though. It would definitely open up astronomy to more people.

  49. DG

    @ Todd W.

    There are 60 arcminutes in each degree, meaning this image is about 0.23 x 0.43 degrees across, giving about 0.1 square degrees in area (really, solid angle). The area of a hemisphere of sky is about 20,626.5 square degrees. Doing the division (aka multiplying by 10) gives 206,265 of these images to cover a hemisphere, 2x that to cover the full sky. Unless I screwed up the math, which is certainly possible.

    (and someone probably already answered, but it was fun to do anyway!)

  50. PG

    @Todd: correct me if I’m wrong (what am I saying! this is the internet!) the whole sky is 64,800 square degrees in size. If the image is 14×26 arcminutes, that makes only 0.101 square degrees. So that would be about 641,000 of these images to cover the whole sky.

  51. PG

    Hmm.. somewhere between me and @DG, and you should be good! :)

  52. PG

    Sorry- I did mess up. @DG was correct. Seems it’s been a while since I thought about solid angles.

  53. DG

    And here is my trusty wikipedia source citation:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Square_degree

    The point is, it’s stupid big.

  54. That’s a lot of pictures…and a LOT of galaxies!

  55. firemancarl

    Hay!Phil!

    It looks like there are a lot of galaxies that are in the process of colliding. Sorry I cannot alter the pic here at work, but it appears that left and diagonal of the really bright foeground star.. there appears to be 2 galaxies colliding. At lleast I think so, since they both seem to be distored towards eachother. Anyone?

  56. scotth

    14 x 26 acrminutes, eh….

    That is quite a bit larger than I expected it to be. That patch covers pretty close to half as much sky as the Sun or Moon does. (764 vs 364 sq arcminutes)

    Very handy mental calibration.

  57. Gary Ansorge

    Quiet Desperation Says:
    November 7th, 2008 at 11:22 am
    I’m just too old and jaded to be impressed by images like this anymore.

    Dang, Dude, how fraking old ARE you? I’m 65 and still find EVERYTHING fascinating,,,but then, I’m compulsively curious,,,

    “Not necessarily. If we are truly alone in the universe, I feel we are pretty darn significant as the lone outpost of sentience.”

    I agree 100 %. Since we have no evidence to the contrary, we must assume we’re the elder race and act accordingly,,,the newbies we raise up to full sentience can thank us later.(see David Brins Uplift novels).

    So many pretty pictures. Glad I have a 6 meg DSL line,,,

    Gary 7

  58. zeb

    In a lot of the foreground stars you can see the movement. They’re not blurred, but one edge of the disk tends to be green while another one tends to be red.

    Anyway, awesome pic.

  59. DrFlimmer

    @ Tom Marking

    Not having a “counter-jet” doesn’t rule out that it is a jet. Due to relativistic beaming the jet’s “light” is shining in a forward direction, just like a flashlight. So if there is nothing to scatter the light of the counter-jet, you won’t be able to see it.

    Btw: I got this pic via newsletter from the ESO this morning and safed the 30MB-version on my hard drive at once. The universe is really astonishing and brilliant – I enjoy such pics all the time!
    Oh, but one thing to the religious discussion above: Just because the universe is big and the earth is small (and human beings are even smaller and insignificant!) it doesn’t rule out a god, does it? 😉
    My opinion is: You will neither prove the existence of god with science nor can you disprove it. That is why it is called “belief”. (Creationism is another (…) thing, on that point I agree.)

  60. @BA “Tom Marking: the bright spot in the fan of material may be a background galaxy; there are so many that overlap is not surprising. There’s no way to tell. But an edge-on galaxy is typically brighter than this object as well. The alignment is also supportive of it being a jet.”

    I’m not denying that jets exist. But there are lots and lots of pictures that are a little more obvious such as:

    http://hubblesite.org/gallery/album/exotic_collection/pr1999043c

    http://hubblesite.org/gallery/album/exotic_collection/pr1992027b
    (this one has 2 jets)

    http://hubblesite.org/gallery/album/exotic_collection/pr2006051b
    Dang, two gigantic lobes on each side of the central galaxy. They’re actually bigger than the galaxy. It would be like the Milky Way shooting out a jet that reached to the Andromeda galaxy or beyond. Way cool.

  61. Naomi

    I love those images that just make me go “WOW!”…

  62. These deep-space images are my favorite to look at. I can just get lost looking at all the tiny points of light (the really faint ones you can barely discern from the blackness), and thinking about how all of them are galaxies, each with billions of stars of their own. I enjoy imagining what might be going on in this vast, amazing universe in which we find ourselves. Reality is so much larger and more awesome than any of us can comprehend.

  63. Creption

    Amazing picture. I felt the same feeling when I looked at the Hubble Deep Space pictures, when I watched the docking sequence in 2001 a Space Odyssee and when I looked around from my virtual moon shuttle after launching from the moon in the superb space flight simulator Orbiter. The universe is devastating beautiful and we hardly saw a glimpse yet.

  64. Hey Phil,

    You wrote “That’s a nearby star, one so close that its motion across the sky caused it to blur during the few years it took to get the observations of this image!”

    Do you mean “the few hours it took”? Minor nitpick about a really great post!

  65. Craig

    < engages jackass mode >

    PHOTOSHOP! This image was probably taken in the same studio where the moon hoax was shot. A smart person KNOWS that the uiverse is only 6000 years old, so when you claim these “galaxies” are billions of light years away, you are perpetuating immoral science that is biased to ensure intellectuals get tenure and make a comfortable living.

    < /disengages jackass mode >

    That was fun!

    In all seriousness, I find images like these to be humbling and they pique my curiousity to the point of frustration. With so many things to study, how does one decide where to start? In 1979 I wrote a high school science paper on quasars. The amount of information available was sparse, maybe two pages from an encyclopedia (an actual hard-copy one). I wish that I could find that essay today and see how the theories of those times stood up to three decades of technology advances and countless hours of observation and modeling.

    Science FTW!

  66. Mike

    @ Phil (or anyone else who can answer):

    “No, not the bright one. See the little weird thing to the left of it? The things that’s green on top and reddish-pink below? That’s a nearby star, one so close that its motion across the sky caused it to blur during the few years it took to get the observations of this image!”

    Why does it appear green on top? I recall from your previous post a few weeks back that there are no green stars. I know that if this is a UV image, then the colors are false, but I’m still confused.

    Could you (or anyone) explain it in language that a simpleton like myself could understand?

    BTW, love your blog!

  67. That’s a great image, Phil. It’s pictures like these that make you realise how large the Universe actually is: some people (most people!) just can’t grasp the vast distances involved, and showing this to them would be one way to educate them on the splendor of our “local” region of space.

  68. DG

    @Mike – Actually I’m pretty sure he means years. I don’t think he’s talking about the integration time of the images – I think he means the exposures were spaced in time enough that it revealed the proper motion of that star against the background.

    What’s really interesting is that it also reveals a bit about their method of collecting the exposures, i.e. doing (presumably) a whole bunch of exposures in one filter, then not hitting the same area with the other filters until a much later time. I guess it’s more impressive to show your bosses a fully exposed field in Grayscale than little patches at a time in RGB!

    But like you said – small detail. Just wanted to answer nicely before someone came along and turned the snark up.

  69. Quiet Desperation

    Dang, Dude, how fraking old ARE you? I’m 65 and still find EVERYTHING fascinating,,,but then, I’m compulsively curious,,,

    43, but I’ve been into this stuff since I was four. I had an earlier deep field image as my desktop on my work PC years ago.

    Actually, I’m thinking of getting back into amateur astronomy now that I’m at a point in life where I can pretty much buy any telescope I want, connect an HD imager to it, and wander the skies from inside the warm house. :-)

    Ah, I’m just being a Negative Nellie. Hitting my year end burnout at work and need a vacation.

  70. MikeFive

    This just gives me the travel bug. I want to get out there and explore it all sooo bad! Lets get a move on with developing the warp drives, please. Don’t make me get out the space whip!

  71. zb

    “It’s a total of 55 hours of observations.”

    “That’s a nearby star, one so close that its motion across the sky caused it to blur during the few years it took to get the observations of this image!”

    Well, color me confused.

  72. slw

    Thank you for this incredibly beautiful post Phil.

    All those worlds, spread out in time. But among all of that matter and space, you are unique. So small, yet so significant.

  73. Crudely Wrott

    Big, innit?

    Mind numbingly, heart breakingly big.

    But, man oh man, look at all the places!

    Inviting, innit?

  74. It’s like the Hubble Deep Field all over again, but even cooler in a way! :)

  75. DK

    Bonus points for the Simpson’s reference

  76. José

    @zb
    It’s not 55 consecutive hours of observation. It’s 55 total hours of observation over a much longer period of time.

  77. Lee451

    These photos are magnificent. And to think…the universe was a complete accident! For some unknown reason and unknown cause something occured; from nothingness to a pinpoint of matter that kept expanding. From this “soup” of waves, particles and nothingness, can you believe, subatomic particles, electrons, protons, neutrons formed. Then, in direct conflict with the laws of entropy, these particles became more complicated, forming more complex matter, which combined itself into increasing (yet still highly structured) stars, planets, galaxies and people, all by itself with no guidence! The epitome of this random chance of occurances is the Mahdi Obama Himself (PBUH). This is much like how sand, lime and concrete are poured into a cement mixer, water is added, then distinct bricks occur and are poured out onto the ground. As these bricks hit the ground, they arranged themselves into buildings in which plumbing, sheetrock, electrical wires, lights and people assemble themselves from the simple objects into increasingly more complex ones. It all makes perfect sense, except to those superstitious Christians. From the perfect order of things, who (or WHY?) would anyone think the God Almighty cold be involved with this?

  78. Tom Marking– looking at that image again, I’m less convinced that’s a jet. It might very well be an edge-on galaxy,but it would have to be a weird one. Now I’m wondering if maybe that’s the colliding galaxy. A spectrum would nail it, but I have no idea if anyone is following this field up with spectra.

  79. The total exposure time of the image is 55 hours. But it was taken over many, many nights.

  80. JKH

    WOW WOW WOW WOW!!! Beautiful, wonderful, magnificent & humlbling. It puts all the pettiness of this tiny little world in context.

  81. skinner

    you really embiggened the universe with that cromulent photograph

  82. Lessie

    This is the best image I’ve seen is quite a while, it was worth the 10 minutes it took to download. :)
    It’s amazing to me that clear photographs like this can be taken from the ground without distortion, the technology blows my mind.

  83. Daniel

    Is NASA going to name ALL of these galaxies? If they dont I get dibs on the middle cluster 😀

  84. Daniel

    OOPS…I meant ESA…and i still get the middle cluster 😉

  85. Rowan Bulpit

    I have no idea why, but looking at this has made me shed a tear. This is the single most beautiful and complex image I have ever seen.

    Consider my mind officially Blown.

  86. Spud

    “I have no idea why, but looking at this has made me shed a tear.”

    You know what? Me too … me too.

  87. MarkB

    Top notch Phil, keep up the good work :)

  88. tombarber

    Coming in a little late, but I downloaded the big picture. The first thing that strikes me is the apparent structure in ths picture–chains of galaxies with fewer in between–all over the picture! Could this be the “foam” structure of galactic clusters finally showing up on a single picture?

  89. PJE

    How can astronomers know for sure that every dot in that picture is a different galaxy, especially if you can’t see the shape. Just curious

    Pete

  90. @BA “Tom Marking– looking at that image again, I’m less convinced that’s a jet. It might very well be an edge-on galaxy,but it would have to be a weird one. Now I’m wondering if maybe that’s the colliding galaxy. A spectrum would nail it, but I have no idea if anyone is following this field up with spectra.”

    Yeah, it was kind of suspicious to me that in the jet interpretation there just happens to be a more distant galaxy smack dab in the middle of the jet which looks like a core of a sideways spiral galaxy. Since jets are common place I’m assuming there is no particular reason they would go through the effort to get a spectrum for this one galaxy so I guess we’ll just have to put up with not knowing for sure.

  91. oldtrekkie

    Hey guys, I downloaded the full res 31.2M version, but still couldn’t get as close as Phil in the post. Zoomable doesn’t seem to make a difference. What did you all do?

  92. Anchor

    On the peculiar galaxy with the apparent “jet” feature, I recall seeing a number of interacting galaxies that resemble that one. (Wish I could recall their designations). In those images, the apparent “jet” is very much fatter than the highly-collimated beam-like structure associated with true jets. These appear to be a fairly common kind of interaction with a dwarf galaxy plunging through the core of the larger disk galaxy, more or less perpendicular to the plane of the latter. Often these kinds of interactions produce a ring of enhanced star-formation in the target galaxy, and one can see just that in this example too.

  93. New Desktop Picture!!!

  94. harpe éolienne

    simply beautiful. reminds me of ‘Passport to the Universe’ i saw in a planetarium a few years back.

  95. BMcP

    Which nearby stars were we looking at in the last image?

  96. Phil (or anyone who knows about this),

    How much of the sky does this image take up? I remember reading that the Hubble Ultra Deep Field image was like looking at a spot of sky the size of what you’d see if you were looking though an 8 foot long soda straw.

    How does this image compare to the Hubble Ultra Deep Field image in terms of what area of the sky it represents (or any other interesting comparisons you can think of)?

  97. Sammy

    A clarification.

    People are confused about whether the picture was taken over a few hours or over many years. It is a few hours of total exposure but those exposures were spaced apart by many years. The data was not specifically taken to create this photo. So long enough for the star to move as described. Phil did not get this wrong.

  98. Ian

    Great article Phil, I’m passing on to a science novice (my wife) because I think it’s pitched just right that anyone can understand.

  99. TheWalruss

    It is times like these when I ponder our minute existence, and I wonder how we could possibly ever disagree on anything. Beings so tiny and insignificant on just the littlest speck that it would take an image with a billion trillion times the resolution of this giant picture for it even to be visible as the faintest speck from halfway to the other side of the observable universe.

    But as soon as I recover from contemplative paralysis and begin to read the responses of others, I’m met with a mixture of expressions of similar wonder and fascination, and abrasive statements dictating what others ought to believe.

    I’d like to say that these people should realize that petty questions of religion and God cannot possibly compare to the absolute magnitude of the mystery of our existence, but then I’d be no better.

    When all is said and done, all I really wish for is cooperation amongst ourselves to counter and surpass the challenges on our little sphere, so we can spread our wings and truly explore the universe in all its beautiful strangeness and variety, and perhaps find answers to those questions that have plagued life since the beginning of consciousness. And perhaps not. But who can tell if we never get the chance to try?

  100. Gravenimagez

    Holee Crom! What a great view… “galaxies… NOT stars!” Just superb. I downloaded the uber file and am sharing the link with everyone I know. It reaffirms the unimaginable vastness of the Universe and our place in it… just to look at all the amazing and wonderful, awesome power of creation.

  101. Egaeus

    @Lee451

    I have seen the light, and it is burned out.

    Feel free to try again after you figure out how our existence doesn’t violate the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

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