Distant Universe shown with panoramic infrared image

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The most detailed infrared image ever taken of a region of space large enough to be representative of the distant Universe has been released by a team led by the University of Edinburgh.

The image from the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) VISTA telescope reveals more than 200,000 galaxies, including the most distant seen to date in the early Universe. These objects formed less than one billion years after the Big Bang. The new image comes from the first year of data taken as part of the five-year UltraVISTA survey. It was made by combining more than six thousand separate images, equivalent to an exposure time of 55 hours.

The image forms part of a huge collection of fully processed images from all the VISTA surveys that is now being made available by ESO to astronomers worldwide. It comes as a result of the VISTA telescope being trained on the same patch of sky repeatedly to slowly accumulate the very dim light from the most distant galaxies. On this colour composite of the UltraVISTA image, the large white objects with haloes are foreground stars in our own Milky Way Galaxy. A host of other galaxies can be seen, from relatively nearby galaxies which appear large enough to discern their structures, to the most distant galaxies which appear as red dots in this image.

Commenting on these images, Professor James Dunlop from the University of Edinburgh who led the team behind this work said: ‘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. This image is just a first taste of what the UltraVISTA survey will ultimately provide.’

The image combines exposures taken through five different near-infrared filters using the new VISTA telescope which is located at the Paranal Observatory in Chile. The design and construction of VISTA was also led from Edinburgh, at the STFC’s UK Astronomy Technology Centre (UK ATC). The camera for the telescope was part-built at STFC’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory.

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