An ultradeep image that's *full* of galaxies!

By Phil Plait | March 23, 2012 6:00 am

What happens when you take a monster 4.1 meter telescope in the southern hemisphere and point it at the same patch of sky for 55 hours?

This. Oh my, this:

[Click to embiggen.]

OK, I know. At first glance it doesn’t look like much, does it? Just a field of stars. However, here’s the important bit: I had to take the somewhat larger original image and reduce it in size to fit my 610-pixel-wide blog. So how much bigger is the original?

It’s 17,000 x 11,000 pixels! If you happen to be sitting on a T1 line, then you can grab this massive 250 Mb file. And I surely suggest you do.

Because yeah, the brightest objects you see in this are stars. Probably a few hundred of them. But you have to look at the bigger image ! Why? Because what’s amazing, truly jaw-dropping and incredible is this:

There are over 200,000 galaxies filling this image!

Ye. Gads.

Here’s a zoom of the image, centered on what looked to me to be one of the biggest galaxies in the frame, a nice edge-on spiral.

With the exception of a handful of blue-looking stars, everything in this zoom is a galaxy, probably billions of light years away. Those tiny red dots are galaxies so far away they crush our minds to dust: we’re seeing them with light that left them shortly after the Universe itself formed.

This light is ancient. And it came a long, long way.

By the way, that picture of the spiral there is not even at full resolution! Just to give you an idea, I cropped out just that galaxy in the full-res image and inset it here. If you want to find it in the full frame, it’s about one-third of the way in from the left, and one-third of the way down from the top. Happy hunting.

[Edited to add: I forgot to add that this galaxy is warped! See how the disk flares up on the left and down on the right, just a bit? This is very common in disk galaxies, and our own Milky Way does it too (see #9 at that link). It’s usually caused when a nearby galaxy’s gravity torques on the stars in the disk.]

These images were taken with VISTA, the European Southern Observatory’s Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA), a 4.1 meter telescope in Chile. This huge image is actually composed of 6000 separate images, and is the single deepest infrared picture of the sky ever taken with this field of view. Hubble can get deeper, for example, but sees a much, much smaller part of the sky.

By looking in the infrared we can see farther into space. Because space is expanding, light from distant galaxies gets red-shifted (like the Doppler effect on a cosmic scale). Young galaxies are generally furiously forming stars, and that makes them blast out ultraviolet light. But a young galaxy seen from very far away has that UV light red shifted into the infrared. So to us, billions of light years distant, we see it pouring out IR light. Looking there means we can see these extraordinarily remote galaxies more easily. If you scan the full-size image, you’ll see lots of tiny, very red dots. Those are most likely the most distant objects in this picture, appearing redshifted, dimmed, and shrunken due to their terrible distance.

Also, looking in the infrared makes stars that look red to our eyes appear blue in the image! Most of the stars in this image are weak, cool, dim red dwarfs. They look blue because this image is false color. It uses three filters to isolate different colors of infrared: 1.3 microns, 1.7 microns, and 2.2 microns (colored blue, green, and red in this image, respectively). The reddest light the human eye can typically see is about 0.7 microns, so these are well outside human range. Many red dwarfs put out light at 1.3 microns, but not nearly as much at 1.7 and 2.2. Since the 1.3 micron light is colored blue in the image, that makes the stars look blue, even though to you they’d look red!

And what a view! Here’s another interesting bit I happened to stumble on while just scanning this monster image:

Isn’t that interesting? There’s a long jet of material apparently coming from that bloated galaxy on the left (I increased the brightness and contrast of this picture to make it more obvious; it was subtle in the original image but I have a lot of practice picking out things like this). Big galaxies have supermassive black holes in their cores, and these sometimes accelerate huge beams of matter and energy that blast out. But wait! The stream goes right through that smaller galaxy on the right. Is that a coincidence — the jet is coming from the big one and happens to pass in front of a more distant galaxy? Or is that smaller one the source of the jet, and actually has two jets coming out of either side? That’s actually a more common occurrence. Beats me. I could argue either way. We’d need spectra of the galaxies to know for sure.

And funny: I went back to the original image to see where I cut that galaxy out, and now I can’t find it. Holy crap. I mean, seriously, I couldn’t find it. That’s how big this image is.

Of course, you can find a dozen galaxies just like it. I also found several gorgeous spirals (look all the way on the left; one is cut off on the edge of the frame and it’s really something). Some were edge-on like the one above, others face-on. There are countless blobby ones, and even more that are just dots, so far away we see them as dimensionless points.

I’ve spent years studying all this, and it still sometimes gets to me: just how flipping BIG the Universe is! And this picture is still just a tiny piece of it: it’s 1.2 x 1.5 degrees in size, which means it’s only 0.004% of the sky! And it’s not even complete: more observations of this region are planned, allowing astronomers to see even deeper yet.

Science is wonderful. Building on the knowledge developed before us, our tools improve and our ability to explore expands. Piece by piece, photon by photon, galaxy by galaxy, we’re examining this Universe we live in and understanding it better every day.

Image credit: ESO/UltraVISTA team. Acknowledgement: TERAPIX/CNRS/INSU/CASU


Related Posts:

Another record breaker: ultra-deep image reveals ultra-distant galaxy
The Helix screams in infrared
The Milky Way’s buried treasures
Spectacular VISTA of the Tarantula

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Pretty pictures

Comments (111)

  1. JimT

    Found the galaxy you lost. Center frame, 1/8th from the bottom edge.

  2. jorenko

    Phil, just thought I’d drop a note here about the venerable T1. We have one at my office. It’s 1.5 megaBITS per second. That means 192 kB/s max download speed. Which means it’s going to take upwards of 30 minutes to download this image. My cable modem at home is actually over 10 times faster!

    … of course, I AM downloading it nonetheless.

  3. Bad Albert

    What’s even more amazing is there are still people on our planet who believe the entire universe was created just for them.

  4. Gary

    Thanks Mr. Plait, wonderful write-up and attempt to help us understand just how vast and amazing our Universe is.

  5. Nothing inspires quite the way a deep field inspires. Wonderful, wonderful.

  6. Torny
  7. That just made me very happy.

  8. ceramicfundamentalist

    i’ve never been terribly interested in deep sky astronomy, i’m more interested in planetary science. but this image, i have to admit, blows my effing mind.

  9. sHx

    It makes a wonderful desktop background.

  10. It’s really cool that we can get these sort of images from ground based observatories. While not feasible yet, and the ROI may be difficult to justify, I would love to see what sort of observations a similar telescope placed on the far side of the moon would get.

    And whenever I see images like this, I am always reminded of two quotes by Carl Sagan:

    In some respects, science has far surpassed religion in delivering awe. How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, “This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant. God must be even greater than we dreamed”? Instead they say, “No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.”

    And

    Once we overcome our fear of being tiny, we find ourselves on the threshold of a vast and awesome Universe that utterly dwarfs — in time, in space, and in potential — the tidy anthropocentric proscenium of our ancestors. We gaze across billions of light-years of space to view the Universe shortly after the Big Bang, and plumb the fine structure of matter. We peer down into the core of our planet, and the blazing interior of our star. We read the genetic language in which is written the diverse skills and propensities of every being on Earth. We uncover hidden chapters in the record of our origins, and with some anguish better understand our nature and prospects. We invent and refine agriculture, without which almost all of us would starve to death. We create medicines and vaccines that save the lives of billions. We communicate at the speed of light, and whip around the Earth in an hour and a half. We have sent dozens of ships to more than seventy worlds, and four spacecraft to the stars. We are right to rejoice in our accomplishments, to be proud that our species has been able to see so far, and to judge our merit in part by the very science that has so deflated our pretensions.

    Both from the same book that should be required reading for every human being on the planet!

  11. I gasped at the closeup. It’s mind-bogglingly beautiful.

  12. Andrew Abnet

    I love the deep field pictures. I can’t get enough of them. No one has mentioned this yet, but there is a gorgeous ghostly bar galaxy on the left edge of the picture. This picture has made my day. Thanks Phil!!

  13. Slugsie

    I love images like this and the Hubble (Ultra) Deep Field. They’re awe inspiring. They’re humbling. They’re just plain natural beauty.

    But one other thing that just flips my brain – any stars we see are in the **foreground**. ANY other image of any kind the stars are the backdrop. Yet here they are the exact opposite, and I just love that.

  14. Damon B.

    @Torny:

    It’s a perfectly cromu… meh, too easy.

  15. Edd

    I think that looks more like a tidal tail than a jet (see NGC4676 for example).

  16. Zathras

    Phil, you found your missing galaxies; now I have a real challenge for you….;-)
    Find the starship Destiny in this picture ;-)

  17. Zathras

    My god! It’s full of sta….galaxies!

  18. Chris

    Unfreaking believable.

    I can honestly say that this image has made my day.

    I might try and get this printed.

  19. Don Bennett

    This is awesome, Thanks for sharing. I downloaded the ginormous version and was checking it out. About ⅙ the way down from the upper left corner, right on the edge of the shot is a brighter than usual galaxy. Just a little ways directly to the right of that are three galaxies forming an arc. The galaxy on the right looks like it has been lensed, only there’s nothing showing that could have caused the lensing. Is there something else that could cause a deformity like this?

  20. Chris

    What is the minimum magnitude able to be seen in this picture?

  21. Images like this never fail to awe and humble me. I have the original Hubble Ultra-Deep Field photograph framed and on my desk, as a constant reminder of how awesome the universe is.

  22. At 17,000×11,000, and printing at 180ppi, this image would result in a poster 61 x 94 inches large or about 5 feet by 7.5 feet. This might make for good “ceiling wallpaper.” Affix the poster to the ceiling of your office (or some other room you’re in often) and you can gaze up at the stars/galaxies.

  23. This is blow-your-mind enough as it is. However, given what we’ve been finding out about galaxies and planets, those 200,000 galaxies probably have about a billion stars each and hundreds of millions, if not billions, of planets each. The sheer number of planets out there virtually guarantees that life is out there somewhere, even if it is so far away that we have no hope of ever detecting it. (I like to think that somewhere, halfway across the Universe, some alien is posting a very similar message to their equivalent to a blog in response to a deep field image their telescopes produced which includes the Milky Way.)

  24. When you posted about the resolution of the new iPad’s “retina” screen a week or two ago, I couldn’t wait to try scrolling around ultradeep field images on one. I might just have to drop this onto a USB and go to the store today to test drive various ridiculously expensive monitors I can’t possibly afford to buy.

  25. That is just mind-blowing.

  26. VinceRN

    I just don’t believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is.

  27. KC

    Scroll, scroll, scroll your boat gently down the datastream…merrily merrily merrily merrily, Life is but a Dream….

  28. em

    Aw, these pictures don’t show up on my fed gov computer. Sad face.

  29. Coreburn

    There’s a zoomable version of the image here: http://www.eso.org/public/images/eso1213a/zoomable/
    (Use the button at the bottom right to make it run full screen.)
    Other versions & sizes here: http://www.eso.org/public/images/eso1213a/

  30. gameshowhost
  31. bobaferret

    Thanks so much for this image and this post. Mind = blown.

  32. budrap

    Magnificent image. If only it would inspire a reconsideration of the quaint notion which survives from the early 20th century (when the known universe was galactic in scale) that this vast expanse can be treated as a singular entity!

  33. What is the width of field of this photo? (That is, how narrow a bit of our sky is this?)

  34. Ken Coenen

    Ye Gads is perhaps the understatement of the year. What can they do for an encore?

  35. Edd

    JoeTheJuggler: The press release says 1.5 square degrees (8 full moons of area)

  36. Richard

    I’d have to agree with Edd’s comment (#15). My guess would be a tidal stream of stars created through galaxy interaction instead of a jet. Active galaxy jets tend to be straighter.

  37. Daniel J. Andrews

    Dang, Zathras @17 beat me to it…ellipses and all. Zathras understand.

  38. Doug Troy

    Forget Disney World, I want to go out THERE.

  39. Thanny

    Coincidentally enough, the site serving the image is capable of only about T1 speeds with four download segments.

    It’s been quite some time since a T1 was considered fast. My home connection is about 75 times faster, and costs about one fifth as much (only 10 times faster on upload, though).

  40. Jojo

    Galaxies like grains of sand… (also the title of an old Brian Aldiss SF book)

  41. Georgijs

    And as usual I can’t open the super huge picture again. I have a Windows XP and I use Firefox. Is there a limit to how big a picture a my PC can open? It is troubling.

  42. Chris Winter

    Torny wrote (#6): “Embiggen?”

    http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/embiggen

    Etymology: Ad-hoc coinage, attested in 1884.

    Verb: embiggen (nonce word) — To make or become bigger.

    —-
    Somewhat related (embiggen your knowledge)

    http://embiggenbooks.com/

  43. Chris Winter

    If you’ll excuse a minor digression, that image reminded me of this:

    Galaxies Like Grains of Sand
    Brian Aldiss
    Faber & Faber, 1966

    http://www.amazon.com/Galaxies-Like-Grains-Brian-Aldiss/dp/0755100565

    @Jojo:

    You beat me to it.

  44. ENT-TT

    That missing galaxy is about 90% of the way down, and dead-center left-t0-right.

  45. ctj

    apart from the galaxies themselves, i love how clearly foamy their structure looks. it’s a nice coincidence that the redder galaxies (i.e., redshifted, so further away) actually look farther away, giving the image a 3-d texture. it really does look like the galaxies are on the edges of giant bubbles.

  46. Tara Li

    How do the analysts of this picture determine which of those extremely small clusters of red pixels are galaxies, versus much closer red dwarfs/sub-dwarfs of M type? As far as those galaxies are, I doubt they subtend enough angular size to be truly resolved as galaxies.

  47. If someone could upload the large (250mb) version as a torrent we could all get a nice look at it. I am trying to load it now, but it looks like it will take a few thousand years with my connection.

  48. @Jojo,

    I decided to see if anyone has estimated the number of grains of sand on Earth. The answer I found was between 10^17 and 10^20 grains. On Google+, Phil did some math and estimated there are 400 billion galaxies in the Universe. Given that each galaxy has about a billion stars (probably more), I estimated the number of stars at 400 Quintillion, or 4 * 10^20. So there are literally more stars in the Universe than grains of sand on Earth.

  49. kat wagner

    I love LOVE how the universe goes on and on and how, before dropping off to sleep, I can fly really fast, passing stars and galaxies and it never ends. There is no end. Blows me away.

  50. Runi Sørensen

    Anyone that know what galaxy we have at the bottom right corner, it is clearly much closer to us than almost all the other galaxies. What about the one in the centre but all the way too the left?

  51. NoAstronomer

    One of my favorite things to do with the Astronomy Picture of the Day (http://apod.nasa.gov) is to see how many deep field objects like galaxies I can spot. Today’s closeup of M9 is tricky, but there’s a bunch in yesterday’s image of M95 with the supernova.

  52. Jon White

    Thanks, Phil, for bringing this image to our attention. Being a skeptic, I would hope you’d agree that a mandatory preface to all statements of knowledge in the material sciences is: “Based on our current level of IGNORANCE, this is what WE THINK we know…” Consider how Galileo thought the stars were fixed to a sphere in the sky, and how Einstein thought the Universe was eternal, etc. And then, consider the questions, “Where did all these galaxies and space and the “law” of gravity, and … come from?” Be brave and always seek the Truth, no matter where it leads, in answering such questions; do not succumb to the fear of ridicule by your fellow scientists and questionnners.

  53. Oh my stars and garters! Thank you, Phil, for tying up my Mac during the download! It was well worth it!

  54. Jon Hanford

    @15 Edd/37 Richard,

    I suspected the same wrt to tidal tails(and ‘knew’ I’ve seen this system somewhere before). Turns out it IS very likely a tidal interaction between two galaxies. The large elliptical is COSMOS J1000003+020146: http://www.subarutelescope.org/Pressrelease/2004/11/16/cosmos.jpg

    A 2006 study called this a likely ‘galaxy threshing system’, only the second known, with a projected separation of 102 kpc between galaxies and tidal tails extending over 150 kpc: http://arxiv.org/pdf/astro-ph/0612351v1.pdf

    The two galaxies are estimated to have been closest about 500 Myr ago.

    Additional images of the two galaxies (and the other known ‘threshing system’) can be found here: http://www.astr.tohoku.ac.jp/~sasaki/thresh-E.html

    Further info on the other known galaxy threshing system, a spiral galaxy-dwarf interacting system in the same Hubble image as the Tadpole Galaxy, UGC 10214, can be found here: http://arxiv.org/pdf/astro-ph/0309020.pdf

  55. Danilo Albergaria

    Given that I love science and think modern astronomy is one of the most important achievements of the human species, I really don´t know how an obvious technological growth allows someone to jump to the conclusion that science (and our understanding of the universe) steadily and surely progresses. That´s not logically garanteed, I think, but anyway sorry for the disturbance. I just love your work, Phil. Gratz!

  56. Mick

    @ Tara Li:

    Phil has a paragraph in this post about distant UV objects being redshifted into the infra-red. All of the dim red stars within our galaxy appear blue, because that’s the way this image is coloured. They are closer to the blue end of the spectrum.

  57. Theramansi

    The ‘missing’ galaxy in question can be found at (8820, 9250).

    Check out (12745, 9040)

  58. Messier Tidy Upper

    @10. LarianLeQuella :

    ..And whenever I see images like this, I am always reminded of two quotes by Carl Sagan …(snip) .. Both from the same book that should be required reading for every human being on the planet!

    Those would be from ‘Pale Blue Dot’ right? ;-)

    Agreed whole-heartedly. :-)

    The sense of perspective and awe and the poetry over and affirmed by the science found there – in almost everything Carl Sagan has written and said – is just wonderful.

    As for this galaxy-rich image : Wow. Just. Wow. Plus thankyou BA. :-)

    ***

    “Cosmology also tells us that there are perhaps 100 billion galaxies in the universe and that each contains roughly 100 billion stars. By a curious co-incidence, 100 billion is also the approximate number of cells in a human brain.”
    – Page 237, ‘StarGazer’, Dr Fred Watson, Allen & Unwin, 2004.

    “If you put three grains of sand inside a vast cathedral, that cathedral will be more densely packed with grains of sand than stars are found apart in space.”
    – Page 28, ‘Skywatching’, David H. Levy, Ken Fin Books, 1995.

    “Yet here we are with our eyes and our minds and our curiosity, six billion passengers aboard a tiny blue boat, bobbing and wheeling our way around one vast Catherine wheel among many.”
    – P.246, Ferris, ‘Seeing in the Dark’, Simon & Schuster, 2002.

  59. Tara Li

    @58 – How would the even colder stars (and brown dwarfs) than M class appear, then? I would expect to see some of those ultra-far galaxies – not quite as far – showing up as green or yellow. I just feel like I’m seeing an awful lot of soup made from a very small stone.

  60. Robert

    Tara: They would be far too dim to be seen. If they were big enough to be seen, they would also be too hot to be shown as red, or near enough to be resolved.

    The combination of amount of light and colour of light could only be produced by a redshifted galaxy. Cold items output too little light to be seen.
    And ultra-far galaxies could not show as green. In order for them to be green, the light they output would have had to be beyond the top of the ultra-violet end of the spectrum, X and Gamma rays. Galaxies don’t emit enough of that sort of radiation. Oh, and there was no detector used for ‘yellow’, yellow items in the image would be ones far enough away for all their light to be redshifted out of the range of the filter who’s output was represented as blue. (This false colour stuff can get confusing!)

  61. Richard Schroeder

    “I’ve spent years studying all this, and it still sometimes gets to me: just how flipping BIG the Universe is!”

    Meh! Chances are this is merely an average sized universe.

  62. ken

    i love this stuff.
    we are so small in comparison yet so big with our dreams.
    life at it’s best!
    thanks!
    ken

  63. Sam H

    @10 Larian:

    That is exactly why, in my opinion, science is the best religion :).

    Not as an institution of ignorance, but as an instrument to attain transcendence above the dullness of life, feel connected with our planet, the universe and with each other – which is the purpose of all religion IMHO. Other religions do this, but science is better than every one of them – because it is true. It’s teachings are based on fact and a reality we can measure and observe. We can trust it more than any other religion, myth or superstition – because IT IS TRUE. And these facts are more exciting, romantic, unthinkable and beautiful than any myth ever was, or will be….

    The only thing it doesn’t have that other religions do is a way to help us be moral….

    (not to say that morality comes from religion or that every religious teaching is moral, but the two are connected…)

  64. Peter

    And then add in the objects in the image which are not emitting visible light.

  65. Lucas Costa

    Reminds me of this…

    “In some respects, science has far surpassed religion in delivering awe. How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, “This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant. God must be even greater than we dreamed!”? Instead they say, “No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.” ” CS

    Edit: Should’ve known someone else in this audience would have beaten me to the punch.

  66. Josh

    @Sam H.

    Science is great because it just reveals the truths of the Creator. I’m glad no one considers your opinion as science :) Religion explains why we are here. Science explains how it happened. There can be no contradiction between the two….unless it’s in our little brains.

    I have to say that creation is beautiful and it’s shows that the Artist is so worth it. But be careful not to worship the art and not the Artist. :)

  67. Penelope

    CS was wrong in his assumption. Every scientific breakthrough has always proven that God is greater than people imagine. Still.

  68. I did some farting around with this image and the new iPad’s high-rsolution display … which really shows off the detail beautifully.

    The deep cosmos at 264 pixels per inch
    http://paul.ingraham.ca/post/19901269325/the-deep-cosmos-at-264-pixels-per-inch

  69. Scott B

    @Penelope wrote “CS was wrong in his assumption. Every scientific breakthrough has always proven that God is greater than people imagine. Still.”

    Another perfect summary of the “god of the gaps” argument.

  70. @61. Tara Li :

    @58 – How would the even colder stars (and brown dwarfs) than M class appear, then? I would expect to see some of those ultra-far galaxies – not quite as far – showing up as green or yellow. I just feel like I’m seeing an awful lot of soup made from a very small stone.

    Apparently some “brown dwarfs” would look mauve from what I’ve read!

    The BA has an article here :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2011/08/24/wise-finds-coolest-brown-dwarfs-ever-seen/

    Which notes :

    .. what color would these things appear if you were near one?
    That’s hard to say. Low-mass stars, say down to about a tenth the Sun’s mass, look red. But as you look at cooler objects like brown dwarfs, things get complicated. For example, once the temperature is low enough, molecules like water and even methane can exist in the object’s atmosphere. These absorb certain colors of light, changing the color of the BD itself. There’s some thinking that very cool stars, like Y dwarfs, might be magenta in color! I’d love to see that. But that’s why the artist’s representation of a Y dwarf, shown here, is colored purple. No one’s really sure, though.

    Phil Plait also has more here :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2010/11/12/wise-finds-the-coolest-star-literally/

    & this site :

    http://www.nd.edu/~bennett/moa07blg192/

    with the news about the discovery of 3 Earth mass exoplanet MOA-2007-BLG-192Lb – which orbits either a brown dwarf or a very small red dwarf at the distance of Venus but with perhaps Pluto’s surface temperature – has an artistic comparison of how each appears which is pretty neat. That last link is via the BA blog article linked to my name here.

    Hope this helps. :-)

  71. Kevin

    Those foreground stars are pretty big… is their apparent radius an affect of light bleed-over to adjacent pixels, or are we actually seeing the disks of the stars?

  72. anon

    Torrent Magnet Hash: 8dafdbc8e34afe67029513ed4f763c608742a0a8

    URI: magnet:?xt=urn:btih:8dafdbc8e34afe67029513ed4f763c608742a0a8

  73. Thanks a lot for the article. It is impossible to realise how big the universe is.

  74. bre

    wow really interesting, took me only 5min to download the picture :)

  75. Infinite123Lifer

    This is unreal. It is on my desktop and it brings an overwhelming presence.

    “It is impossible to realise how big the universe is.”

  76. Todd

    Truly humbling. We can say science is wonderful, but it’s really the universe that is wonderful, science is merely the beholding of that wonder in a way we can share and build on.

  77. John

    Here’s an easy way to browse the full resolution image:
    http://zoom.it/VGFr

  78. Mike

    I have the Hubble Deep Space photo and it’s 18.1 MB which I thought was pretty large but this one is massive. Although it’s not used for the desktop.

  79. Great pic. Its worth downloading the 250 MB image.

  80. Composite of the ESO VISTA image with NASA’s Blue Marble 2012: http://flic.kr/p/btoRfL

  81. Urpo

    It is sad that most of the people do not understand anything about this incredible beauty and practically endless size of universe. Thank you for sharing. The science shows us unbelievable secrets of existence, but for the most of people fairy tales are more important source of “knowledge”.

  82. Steve

    This is the bit I never understand – the furthest ones away are billions of light-years away so are close to the beginning of the universe (from time spent from light travelling), but if nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, how did they get there, since we are probably not sitting right in the middle of the universe (and that would halve the time anyway)?

    Or is space not the surface of the classic balloon analogy but the atoms of gas within a terrestrial ballon as it travels up through our atmosphere and so is rarified?

  83. Nigel Depledge

    Josh (68) said:

    Religion explains why we are here.

    Only if you unquestioningly accept its starting point (that some sort of god exists).

    If one expects to be shown evidence in support of that claim before accepting it, then religion cannot explain anything.

    Science explains how it happened.

    And, increasingly, why.

  84. Nigel Depledge

    Sam H (65) said:

    That is exactly why, in my opinion, science is the best religion .

    Not as an institution of ignorance, . . .

    But here’s a contradiction. Unless you redefine “religion” to be such a broad term that it becomes essentially meaningless, science is the total opposite of religion.

    Science has no sacred text.
    Science has no god or messiah.
    Science demands that no-one unquestioningly accept dogma.
    Science demands no faith.
    Science has no temples.

    The only thing it doesn’t have that other religions do is a way to help us be moral….

    Actually, it could be argued that very little of our modern morality arises from religion. Certainly, if you look at the Ten Commandments, we have plenty of digression without it being considered immoral.

    If you look at the teachings of Jesus (“turn the other cheek”, for example), we have opposite behaviour that is not considered immoral (the US / UK invasion of Afghanistan, for instance, was essentially revenge for 11/9). The existence of the death penalty in the US indicates that revenge is considered to be moral.

    And coveting one’s neighbour’s possessions has been raised to an art form in North America and western Europe.

  85. janvones

    “Click to embiggen”?

    Priceless!

  86. Dave The Rave

    @89 Steve

    The short answer to your question is “the expanding universe”. Because space, and everything in it is growing, and has been, albeit at a slower and slower rate, since the big bang, we can “see father than the age of the universe”. there is a ton of excellent material on this topic. Another excellent site (btw – Great Job Phil!) geared towards non technical information is scienceblogs.com/startswithabang/. And I totally agree, awesome photo.

  87. laurel

    “What happens when you take a monster 4.1 meter telescope in the southern hemisphere and point it at the same patch of sky for 55 hours?”

    Well… a fake happens. This is a computer-generated image and I can do it by myself using sky-map-like programs, in few minutes, for every resolution you like. There is impossible to get an image like this by looking to the sky, no matter with what (radio)telescope or bare eyes, because of the rotation of the earth and the solar system, all objects will move compared to a reference point and compared to each other, you would get lines, and spots, and arcs, and circles, but not fixed points. Ask any serious astronomer.

  88. Dave The Rave

    @68 Josh
    @69 Penelope

    your comments are completely wrong. Carl Sagan was/is quite correct. Please point to Any evidence for your point of view. I’ll save you the effort, there is none. In the history of man, there has never been one example for the existence of the supernatural, or any ‘god’. Religion has never contributed any knowledge about the universe we live in. Art/artist talk is pure sophistry, the same as ‘how many angels can dance…’. Religion certainly does not explain why we are here. Not in any shape or form. There are so many excellent books I can point you to, to help in your understanding, The God Delusion is a good starting point. And I do not agree (at all) that human morality comes from religion. Do you need religion to know not to kill someone? I certainly hope not.

  89. Nigel Depledge

    Steve (89) said:

    This is the bit I never understand – the furthest ones away are billions of light-years away so are close to the beginning of the universe (from time spent from light travelling), but if nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, how did they get there, . . .

    They are – more or less – where they started. Matter and energy pervaded space until everything weas cool enough to condense. Even though space itself expands more rapidly with greater distance from our viewpoint, those distant objects we observe are not moving rapidly through local space. The expansion of the universe is not about galaxies moving apart through space, it is about space itself expanding.

  90. Randy

    3 When I consider your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
    the moon and the stars,
    which you have set in place,
    4 what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them? Psalm 8

  91. Nigel Depledge

    Laurel (95) said:

    “What happens when you take a monster 4.1 meter telescope in the southern hemisphere and point it at the same patch of sky for 55 hours?”

    Well… a fake happens. This is a computer-generated image and I can do it by myself using sky-map-like programs, in few minutes, for every resolution you like.

    No, you can’t, because this is a set of stacked images of real objects. Your simulation would be equally pretty, but would be based on speculation, whereas this is based on real data acquired from real photons emitted by real (and really distant) objects.

    There is impossible to get an image like this by looking to the sky, no matter with what (radio)telescope or bare eyes, because of the rotation of the earth and the solar system, all objects will move compared to a reference point and compared to each other, you would get lines, and spots, and arcs, and circles, but not fixed points. Ask any serious astronomer.

    Even most not-very-serious astronomers know about equatorial tracking mounts. The rotation of the Earth is compensated for.

    As for the movement of the Earth about the sun and the movement of the solar system about the Milky Way . . . seriously, do you think a significant parallax error would be introduced over a mere handful of days when observing objects that are billions of light-years distant?

  92. Nigel Depledge

    Penelope (69) said:

    CS was wrong in his assumption. Every scientific breakthrough has always proven that God is greater than people imagine. Still.

    No. Your postulate cannot explain that religious organisations often reject the findings of science.

    Take “Intelligent Design” as an example. Aside from its lack of logic and evidence, it has also been theologically criticised because it demands a god that leaves his sticky fingerprints all over his creation for us to find. This is indeed a little god.

  93. Tom West

    If this image has 200,000 galaxies and covers 0.0004% of the sky, that implies we could see 5 BILLION galaxies with this telescope across the enstire sky!

  94. Rod

    middle right star. Is that a planet in front of that star? It looks like one to me

  95. Bill Nettles

    What’s the solid angle of this image?

  96. six

    beautiful, thanks science

  97. nick

    anyone knows how to open a 4GB image ? irfanview and gimp can’t do it

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