NASA has just published the most detailed view of the universe ever taken. It's called the Extreme Deep Field (XDF) and was created from 10 years of Hubble Space Telescope photographs. The incredible image shows some the oldest galaxies ever observed by humans, going 13.2 billion years back in time.
It's a mind-blowing and extremely humbling view. Not only for what it shows, but for what it doesn't show. While this image contains about 5500 galaxies, it only displays a tiny part of the sky, a ridiculously small slice of the universe. As you can see in the image below (make sure to expand it to see it complete), the photo only focus on a small area of the constellation Fornax.
It is an insignificant part of the universe. An arbitrary sample, photographed repeatedly with the Advanced Camera for Surveys and the Wide Field Camera 3 on board the Hubble. And yet, it's bubbling with billions of stars, bursting with trillions of planets. Some of those planets, no doubt, had or have life on them.
According to Dr Garth Illingworth, principal investigator of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field 2009 program, "the XDF is the deepest image of the sky ever obtained and reveals the faintest and most distant galaxies ever seen. XDF allows us to explore further back in time than ever before."
As Dr Illingoworth says, the XDF is a "time tunnel into the distant past". Indeed, and it's the most beautiful time machine I can imagine.
The image was created by using multiple photographs taken since 2003 by Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys and the Wide Field Camera 3. The XDF is the heir of the Ultra Deep Field images.
This graphic shows (click to expand) the foreground (galaxies less than five billion light years away from us), background (between five billion and nine billion years ago) and very far background galaxies (more than nine billion years), which are "one ten-billionth the brightness of what the human eye can see".
This video explains how this historical image was assembled:
Soon, when the James Webb Space Telescope is operative, scientists will give the area of XDF another pass using its infrared instrument. Then scientists will be able to add galaxies that existed when the universe was just a few hundred million years old.