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Like photographers assembling a portfolio of best shots, astronomers have assembled a new and improved portrait of mankind's deepest-ever view of the universe. Called the eXtreme Deep Field, or XDF, the photo was assembled by combining 10 years of NASA Hubble Space Telescope photographs taken of a patch of sky at the center of the original Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF).
The XDF image reaches much fainter galaxies, and includes very deep exposures in red light from Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3. These exposures enable new studies of the earliest galaxies in the universe.
The XDF contains about 5,500 galaxies within its field of view. Magnificent spiral galaxies similar in shape to our Milky Way and the neighboring Andromeda galaxy appear in this image. Large, fuzzy red galaxies where the formation of new stars has ceased can also be seen. Peppered across the field are tiny, faint, more distant galaxies that were like the seedlings from which today's striking galaxies grew.
The history of galaxies — from soon after the first galaxies were born to the great galaxies of today, like our Milky Way — is laid out in this one remarkable image. The faintest galaxies are one ten-billionth the brightness of what the human eye can see.
"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," said Garth Illingworth of the University of California at Santa Cruz, principal investigator of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field 2009 program.
NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope will also be aimed at the XDF. Because of the expansion of the universe, light from the distant universe is stretched into longer, infrared wavelengths. The Webb telescope’s infrared vision will find even fainter galaxies that existed when the universe was just a few hundred million years old.