New Look at the Infant Universe

New Look at the Infant Universe


In early 2009, a team of astronauts visited
Hubble to repair the wear and tear of twenty years of operating in a hostile environment
– and to install two new instruments, the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph, and Wide Field
Camera 3 – better known as WFC3. WFC3 is a combined ultraviolet, visible and
infrared camera that dramatically extends Hubble’s ability to image astronomical objects. With these new capabilities, Hubble is still
pushing the boundaries of science after two decades in orbit. WFC3 is actually two instruments in one: the
ultraviolet and visible-light channel is WFPC2’s replacement, cramming six times as many pixels
into a similar field of view. As well as providing scientists with higher
resolution observations than ever before, the pictures from this part of WFC3 are also
Hubble’s prettiest yet, revealing details never seen before through any telescope. But
it is WFC3’s infrared channel that is the real breakthrough. Infrared astronomy is getting a lot of attention
right now. It’s not just Hubble’s new functions – ESA’s Herschel Space Observatory, NASA’s
Spitzer Space Telescope and the forthcoming NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope were
all designed to work in this part of the spectrum too. One of the reasons for this is that studying
the sky in the infrared allows astronomers to look at relatively cool objects that emit
little or no visible light. An example of these are so-called protoplanetary nebulae
– a cool gas envelope that gets thrown off by a certain type of star as its nuclear fuel
supply runs low. Looking at these nebulae through an optical
telescope is hard, as they barely emit any visible light, forcing astronomers to rely
instead on faint reflected starlight to see anything at all. But protoplanetary nebulae
shine far more brightly in the infrared part of the spectrum. Infrared imaging is also extremely useful
for peering through interstellar dust clouds, which are impenetrable to visible light. The
reason for this is similar to why sunsets are red. Just as particles in the atmosphere
scatter blue light more than red, interstellar dust clouds block visible light more than
infrared. Hubble has become famous for its striking
visible-light pictures of huge clouds of interstellar dust and gas. But sometimes scientists want
to know what’s happening behind, or inside, the cloud of dust. Making infrared observations
pulls away the veil and reveals the hidden stars. Until now, infrared imaging was challenging
with Hubble. The Near Infrared Camera and Multi-object Spectrometer, or NICMOS, did
allow astronomers to study objects in infrared light in ways not possible from the ground,
but it forced them to make a difficult choice. Because its images were small – only about
65 000 pixels in total, similar to a mobile phone screen – NICMOS could produce the sharpest
images only if it concentrated on a very narrow field of view. Taking in a wider view came
at the cost of losing much of the detail. Along with a much wider field of view and
better sensitivity, WFC3’s infrared channel has a million pixels, 15 times better than
NICMOS, and similar to what you get on a computer screen. This means astronomers no longer have
to compromise between how much of the sky they can observe, and how much detail they
can study it in. These improvements mean Hubble is now far
better at observing large areas of sky as well as very faint and very distant objects.
These are key for the science of cosmology, the study of the origins and development of
the Universe. Because the Universe is expanding, light waves
coming from distant objects are stretched as they travel through space, and the waves
become longer. The further an object is away, the more its light is stretched on its journey
to us, and the redder the light appears. Hence the effect is known as redshift. For really distant objects, the ultraviolet
and visible light is redshifted so much it goes infrared – literally, “below red” –
and that is the reason that infrared imaging is so important for spotting these very distant
galaxies. This is the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, a visible
light image taken in 2003 and 4 with Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys. The picture is
of a little patch of sky almost a hundred times smaller than the area of the full moon.
It contains no stars visible with the naked eye – but taking a million second exposure
of this little black speck of space reveals these vanishingly faint faraway galaxies. Studying the same region with WFC3’s infrared
photography reveals galaxies more distant still: some of these are so far away that
they have been redshifted out of the visible spectrum altogether. We see galaxies here as they were many billions
of years ago. When the light from some of these galaxies started its long journey towards
us, our Sun and Earth had not even begun to form. But what is really exciting cosmologists about
WFC3’s infrared imaging of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field is not just what’s in the foreground
so to speak, amazing as that is, but the scatter of tiny, faint specks just visible in the
background, beyond these already faraway galaxies. Some of the flecks of light in this fuzzy
image are just anomalies within the light detectors, but among them are faint impressions
of early galaxies. In this photo we are looking at some of the most remote objects ever seen.
They are so distant, and their light has travelled so far to reach us, that we see these galaxies
as they were 13 billion years ago, when the Universe was only about 5% of its current
age. Discovering and studying these galaxies can
tell us a lot about the conditions that prevailed in the earliest years of the Universe, and
confirm – or perhaps refute – our theories of early galaxy formation.
Whatever the case may be, observations like these certainly take us a few steps closer
to understanding the history of our Universe.

100 Replies to “New Look at the Infant Universe

  1. @123linedude123
    can you disprove the fact that things existed billions of years ago, and that their light is just reaching us? no. you can't

    can you disprove the fact that earth is about 4 and a half billion years old? no. you can't.

    can you disprove the fact that life may exist elsewhere in the universe? no. you fucking can't. go to hell.

  2. mind-blowing stuff.. I can't even begin to comprehend it. Think about how many star-systems there are out there; and then think about how many planets there are orbiting those stars — and how many of those planets are habitable. Makes you feel extremely humble.

  3. so does this mean the universe expands at light speed, or greater, or what? I love cosmology but every answer leads to 100 more questions :/

  4. @SpeedFreakNO According the HST website, the pixel count of the visible light camera is 2051X4096 at 15 microns. The pixel count really doesn't mean much other than the more you have the better resolution. What really matters is the quantization error, aka noise, that is inherent in each chip. The read noise on the WFC3 is 3.1e- compare that to most DSLRs at 8e- or 9e-

  5. This stuff has fascinated me since the time of my birth. But as I was studying astrophysics in university…..the physics was really just killing my interest for the cosmos…

    I think I will just leave the cosmos as hobby, and as a mystery for my imagination

  6. @01101100d Are you referring to me, saying that I believe I know it all? Because it's obvious I don't. Why would I ask a question otherwise?

  7. …so, they spent millions of dollars in putting a 1 Megapixel camera in Hubble when inexpensive comsumer technologies as of 2009 have surpassed 10MP with ease?

  8. Fascinating, I truly hope the Hubble can be saved as an arifact and not go the way of Sky Lab……..Hubble has shown us sooooo much! I would be terrible to just let it burn up in our atmosphere.

  9. @diamondrio21 Relax, Diamondrio. The pioneering technology is important, but what's more important is broadening the scope of our scientific endeavors and increasing our abilities to understand the universe at large. Science is progressive.

  10. @pzmtuthcvpvl Well mainly that its rankly absurd that every part of the universe would be flying away from us at multiple times the speed of light. It seems more likely to me that red shift is caused by some sort of light attenuation — perhaps an effect not yet discovered whereby light traveling through hard enough vacuum starts to lose its higher frequencies in the same way sound does.

  11. @pzmtuthcvpvl well it would actually come down the probability of the light reaching us passing through a pocket of very hard vacuum. Even if it didnt pass through hard vacuum for most of its trip, as long as it passed through some it would still become attenuated. So I don't think that's unreasonable. But regardless, the red shift isn't uniform.

  12. @pzmtuthcvpvl Are you saying that the actual universe is a minimum of 1000x larger than the observable universe?
    Where did that figure come from and is there an upper limit?

  13. @pzmtuthcvpvl Well the nonuniformity of red shift is the process by which they supposedly measure the distance of objects.

    It has not been experimentally proven that EM radiation travels in very hard vacuum. In a lab, whatever wave type you pick, as soon as you start removing matter its ability to travel through that space decreases. Working from empirical data I don't see that there is any reason to doubt that this would be different with light.

  14. @pzmtuthcvpvl 1) Hard vacuum I'd define as anything on the order of a handful of molecules per cubic meter of volume. 2) Light I do consider to be a wave with particle properties (rather than visa versa.) 3) dust is irrelevant because it doesn't cause red shift, it just lessens the amount of light. 4) Sounds like yet another aether theory of light. Not necessarily incorrect, but where's the proof? 5) Time is an abstraction created from observation of cyclical change in matter, so no.

  15. @verycrazyghoul Maybe itll happen if we stop fighting over this rock. I think itll be more profitable to sell moon rocks that cure cancer than oil from a warlord.

  16. @hornetpalooza Actually, the new droids have 8MegaPixel cameras, things seem like they are becoming outdated as soon as they come out lol.

  17. @pzmtuthcvpvl Well I would certainly agree with your view that space-time cannot exist independent of matter, but I would go further and say that space-time is only an abstraction based on of some of the properties of matter (energy being one of them.) I think the best way to look at light is the way we look at electricity, the two seem to be much more closely related than is commonly let on. The passage of electrical current through space may be in many ways analogous to the passage of light.

  18. @hornetpalooza No. It's the longer wavelength of IR light that makes it harder to achieve high resolutions. Ever seen those huge radio telescopes often arranged in clusters and working as interferometers? Or the Arecibo observatory? Despite it's huge size it doesn't achieve better resolutions than the much smaller telescopes working in visible light. That's because radio waves have much longer wavelengths.

  19. @Juefawn The point is to advance our understanding of the universe. All that we have learned so far will be useful some day, but we need to learn a lot more still before we can travel to other stars.

  20. @Juefawn Studying the universe doesn't prevent ESA or NASA from working on the problems you mentioned. All of them are being studied.

  21. You should do a video about how we can see into the past, using small words and speaking really slow…with lots of graphics. My mind is always blown when you say the galaxies you observe are from BEFORE the earth was created.

  22. @ogicabp4u I FULLY AGREE with studies of the moon, and even closer planets, but I am not sure why there is all this deep space investigation. I probably wouldn't like the amount of money that goes into the research, and I think it could be used for things going on here on earth. Alfredian distance-propulsion Theorem: the funding of the distance of investigation into the universe should correlate with propulsion abilities at present.

  23. @Juefawn Well, it's probably the most important thing we can study. We should know what could threaten us, we should know our environment. This isn't just for fun and games. This is for knowledge. We can learn so much from space, and who knows what more there is to discover. We could find life even. We have the funds. Don't fall for that line of BS. The Government has all the money it needs. Although with a republican house that might end soon.

  24. @hornetpalooza every camera sensor can register IR light (but most have filters to block it). The answer to your question is quality and reliability.

  25. @hornetpalooza: A cellphone CCD chip is shit compared to any high quality CCD of any telescope. The size constrains have practical reasons, like reliability, dead pixel minimization, current needs, reaction to temperature changes etc. For more in-depth info check the papers on the MER Pancam cameras to learn about what is needed for space based camera technology and how much has to be done to calibrate and test every aspect of a CCD chip.

  26. @Gajoobles: You mean mirrors (in the case of Hubble), don't you? It's about the combination of both. 65000 pixels is much if the field of view is tiny. If you need more you build mosaic photos. 🙂

  27. @InthegreatIam: Imagine the well above 750 billion dollars for the war in Iraq would have been spent on useful things like health care, better schools, better infrastructure, alternative energy research, city development, social services or projects and whatnot – like supermax jails for bankers 😉 You could run the NSF for 100 years on that budget or the NIH for some 23 years.
    1 trillion dollars couldn't bring a working democracy to Iraq. That's not well-spent money and another promise not kept.

  28. @hornetpalooza It's something to do with the wavelength of IR. IR has a very short, or 'small' wavelength. For some reason, short wavelengths are more easily picked up at low-resolution. They use these low-reolution telescopes to study objects with a high red-shift (obejects that are moving away very fast shift into the red). I hard a hard time finding a site that offers a technical explaination as too why low-resolution picks up the small wave, but if try you will find. Seek and u will find 😉

  29. @morningstomper123: The scientific importance of high resolution photos depends on what you're looking for, exactly. You don't need to resolve a galaxy into 16 billion pixels if you want to know its redshift.
    People want cool photos and think that's what they're paying for vie their tax money. Astronomers want cool data that are scientifically useful. Cool photos are just a byproduct that coincidentally is good advertising for astronomy. If you want cool pictures go watch Avatar.

  30. Can't wait till we get to see the Hubble ultra-super-duper-holy-shit0rz-OMGWTFBBQ-didUjustCthat-whizzbang Deep Field image.

  31. simply astounding….. how anyone could remain a theist after this is beyond me, we are so insignificant it is truly mind blowing

  32. Its amazing to think that we see those galaxies as they were 13billion years ago, Just think how many civilizations may have come and gone on any planets with life there.

  33. I just wish scientists gave the same effort (or atleast let us know more about it) on space travel 🙁 I wanna be able to see the Earth from Space 🙂

  34. @DoctorWong1979 I'm a Christian and I love to watch this, Nova, Scientific American, Cosmos by Carl Sagan, etc. I also read material from the Intelligent Design scientists.

  35. I am no longer needed, for 'God' has truly returned to set the captives free. I love 'God' because God is freedom and I love freedom. Lolololoooooooooooooool its funny because thats how awesome 'he' is :))))))))!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!<33333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333

  36. OMG at 5:01 to 5:10. It reminds me of Horton Hears a Who from Dr. Seuss. You can't see it with the naked eye but it there! 😀

  37. all of the neb's are just loaded with images of faces and bodies, I think its our souls out there! Its freaking beautiful! and so are you maharley27!!

  38. it is only a small portion of the universe. The full structure of universe is given in VEDAS. Read KALIYUGAPURANA( in malayalam) which explains the structure of universe fully on the basis of modern science.

  39. What a crock of propaganda from NASA, et al. Deciphered video: "Please keep funding us, we're doing really cool sciencey things!" Phooey, the Earth is flat.

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