What is happening
The Hubble Space Telescope has just captured the largest near-infrared image of the sky.
why is it important
This giant survey could pave the way for discoveries from the Next-Generation James Webb Space Telescope and possibly help humans understand some of the most elusive regions of our universe.
Amid the thrill of discussing astronomy’s shiny new toy,we can’t forget Hubble.
Since its launch in late December last year, JWST has been making waves, carrying the hopes and dreams of wide-eyed scientists, along with gold-plated mirrors and an array of high-tech infrared cameras that can pierce the dust of stars and help us solve long-standing black hole mysteries. But the proven Hubble is still struggling and, in fact, has just taken a pretty big step.
The Hubble Space Telescope, which ventured into the cosmos in 1990, captured its largest image of space in the near-infrared and thus even penetrates the waters that JWST is about to explore.
This remarkable image could shine a light on some of the rarest objects in the universe, such as monster galaxies that are the product of massive galaxy mergers or super-violent black holes that lurk deep in interstellar space.
“It was difficult to study these extremely rare events using existing imagery, which prompted the design of this large survey,” Lamiya Mowla said in a statement. Mowla is an astrophysicist at the University of Toronto and lead author of a study on the survey, a preprint of which is available on arXiv. It will soon be published in The Astrophysical Journal.
Part of a new high-resolution survey dubbed 3D-Dash, which stands for ‘drift and shift’, Hubble’s latest dataset covers almost an area of the sky six times the size of the moon as seen from Earth. You can actually explore it for yourself here. What you are looking at is a mosaic of several snapshots taken by Hubble which were then stitched together.
Try zooming out and dragging the screen – it’s quite spectacular how much ground (sky?) this image covers.
“Since its launch more than 30 years ago, the Hubble Space Telescope has led a renaissance in the study of how galaxies have changed over the last 10 billion years of the universe,” Mowla said. . “The 3D-DASH program extends Hubble’s legacy in large-scale imagery, so we can begin to unlock the mysteries of galaxies beyond our own.”
What is an infrared image?
When you look up at the sky, even though you are located in the darkest forest on Earth, you don’t see all the stars. And it’s not because some stars aren’t in your field of vision.
They are there, but they are invisible.
Human eyes can only view light wavelengths within a certain region of the electromagnetic spectrum. Just beyond this region is infrared light. And galaxies and stars that are really, really far away emit exactly that kind of light – so they’re basically hidden from our eyes no matter what we try to do.
But Hubble, and JWST too, have a way around our human restriction. Scientists have integrated these two instruments with what are essentially infrared light detectors.
As the diagram shows,are much (much) stronger – which is why it has the potential to show us tons of things our eyes can’t see – but Hubble has some of those special light-processing abilities.
Also, Hubble actually has a leg up on JWST here.
According to the researchers behind the new study, JWST is designed to take very sensitive close-up images of deep space in order to obtain very clear images of small interstellar areas. This is incredibly exciting since we’ll likely get images of distant stars, galaxies, and other cosmic phenomena with a level of clarity similar to what we get for images of space objects closer to Earth.
But Hubble can take extremely large field images like the news we are watching. Eventually, such expanded datasets could inform future JWST studies, helping the next-generation scope point in the right direction to reveal observations.
As Ivelina Momcheva, data scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy and principal investigator of the study, says, “This gives us a glimpse of future scientific discoveries and allows us to develop new techniques to analyze these large sets of data.”