Image of distant Universe unveiled

University astronomers have produced an image of the sky that penetrates deeper into space and time than before.

Composite image of distant universe

More than 200,000 galaxies can be seen in the composite image, including the most massive galaxies yet seen in the early Universe.

These galaxies were formed about 13 billion years ago, fewer than one billion years after the Big Bang.

Five-year project

Researchers created the colour image using data from an observatory in Chile, using a VIRCAM camera mounted on a telescope known as VISTA.

The image has been compiled from the first year’s worth of data in a five-year survey, known as UltraVISTA.

It was made by combining more than 6,000 separate exposures.

These were obtained by imaging the same patch of sky repeatedly to slowly accumulate the very dim light of the most distant galaxies.

Link to Hubble

This image is just a first taste of what the UltraVISTA survey will ultimately provide.

Professor James DunlopSchool of Physics and Astronomy

The telescope’s design and construction were led by scientists at the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s UK Astronomy Technology Centre and the School of Physics and Astronomy.

Researchers from both teams work in close collaboration at the Royal Observatory Edinburgh.

The UltraVISTA survey targets the same site as the largest optical image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.

In combination with the Hubble images the new VISTA data will provide a treasure trove for a range of further studies.

Further studies

Further images in the UltraVISTA project are expected to enable 5-10 times as much depth.

They are being produced by a consortium led by the European Southern Observatory and including researchers from France, Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark.

These images will enable astronomers to study the evolution of galaxies over essentially all of cosmic time.

Until recently our view back to the first epoch of galaxy formation has been limited to tiny, pencil-beam images made with the Hubble Space Telescope. Now VISTA, with its panoramic imaging capability, is providing us with the first view of truly representative regions of the young Universe.

Professor James DunlopSchool of Physics and Astronomy