Imagine if you got a glimpse into the earliest stages of your life. Seeing yourself as a baby, throwing tantrums, sleeping, playing and later growing up would be interesting, right?
NASA is experiencing that very sensation after obtaining a photo showing the farthest – and thus, earliest – reaches of the universe.
The photo is called the eXtreme Deep Field, or XDF, and was created by combining 10 years of NASA Hubble Space Telescope photographs of the same patch of sky at the center of the original Hubble Ultra Deep Field. Though it focuses on a small field of view, it reveals 5,500 galaxies that were previously unseen.
The faintest of those galaxies is one-ten billionth the brightness of what the human eye can see on its own, NASA says.
“The XDF is the deepest image of the sky ever obtained and reveals the faintest and most distant galaxies ever seen,” said Garth Illingworth, principal investigator of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field 2009 program, in a NASA statement. “XDF allows us to explore further back in time than ever before."
Unlike a human’s lifetime, which would span decades, this photo reveals galaxies from 13.2 billion years ago. Considering the universe is only 13.7 billion years old, these galaxies are, relatively speaking, in their infancy at the time of the photo.
Scientists can tell the time frame of the photo by a galaxy’s color. A bright-blue light shows a young, forming galaxy, while a dark-red light indicates a galaxy that is more mature.
The XDF photo is riddled with blue infant galaxies.
Like many infants, the galaxies are small in size, often brash. They can be seen violently colliding with each other to form bigger galaxies.
While NASA is pleased with the XDF, it hopes the photo will allow scientists to look even further into the past.
Using infrared vision from NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, astronomers will look for more stars and galaxies and, hopefully, the first objects to illuminate the dark universe after the big bang, the space agency said.
As NASA explains it, the XDF is a "time tunnel into the distant past.”