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Hubble Photo Lifts Lid on Big Bang

March 10, 2004|From Associated Press

BALTIMORE — The deepest view of the universe, a photo by the Hubble Space Telescope that looks back to the edge of the big bang, shows a chaotic scramble of odd galaxies smashing into each other and re-forming in bizarre shapes.

The snapshot, called the Ultra Deep Field, captured light that had streaked through space for more than 13 billion years, starting its journey when the universe was only 5% of its 13.7-billion-year age. The view has about 10,000 galaxies, some mixed in chaos that one astronomer said "looked like a train wreck."

Capturing such faint, distant light, officials at the Space Telescope Science Institute said, was like photographing a firefly hovering above the moon.

"For the first time we're looking back at stars that are forming out of the depths of the big bang," said Steven V.W. Beckwith, director of the institute.

Hubble's images were collected by focusing its instruments at a single point in the southern sky for 1 million seconds, an exposure that took more than 400 orbits of the space telescope.

The portion in the sky photographed by two Hubble instruments is very small. Astronomers compared the field of view to looking at the sky through an 8-foot-long soda straw.

What the view lacks in width it makes up for in depth. Beckwith said a telescope had never captured such detail from such a distance before.

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