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Scientists create the deepest space image ever by mining Hubble images for new light

Published Jan 30th, 2019 5:30PM EST
hubble ultra deep field

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The Hubble Space Telescope has produced some of the most stunning glimpses of distant objects mankind has ever laid eyes on, but one particular image has repeatedly wowed researchers and continues to yield new discoveries.

It’s a composite image of an area of space known as the Hubble Ultra-Deep Field, and it took hundreds of hours to produce using the telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3. The observations revealed ancient galaxies dating as far back as 13.2 billion years, and it’s the “deepest” image of space that exists. Now, a new effort to mine the original images for additional detail has resulted in an even deeper look into that area of space.

In a new paper published in Astronomy & Astrophysics, researchers from Spain’s Canary Islands explain how they were able to find faint objects hiding in the original Hubble images that weren’t visible in the larger composite.

“What we have done is to go back to the archive of the original images, directly as observed by the HST, and improve the process of combination, aiming at the best image quality not only for the more distant smaller galaxies but also for the extended regions of the largest galaxies,” Alejandro S. Borlaff of the Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias (IAC) said in a statement.

The resulting image looks a bit odd when compared to the original composite, but it’s easier to see the new light sources peeking their way out of what was previously a pitch black canvas. These new “ultra-deep” images show objects that are more distant than the closer galaxies in the foreground, which have been dated to around 13.2 billion years ago.

The pipeline the team used to detect hidden light sources could potentially be used with other images of space, and teach us even more about what lies beyond.