Hell Yeah, Hubble!

It wasn't all that long ago that I wrote a five-part series on Hubble's old camera, WFPC2. I call it "The Camera that Changed the Universe." Part 1 focused on Hubble showing us just how deep, rich, and full of wonder our Universe is. Let's remember how this happened.

The first thing we did was take a patch of sky that was relatively empty. No bright stars, no large galaxies or clusters, no planetary nebulae, just a little tiny patch of black, empty sky.

And then we point Hubble at it. And what do we do? We sit there. And wait. Collecting tiny, miniscule amounts of light. First, for minutes on end. And then the minutes turn into hours, and the hours turn into days. All the while, Hubble just patiently sits there, pointing at the same patch of empty sky. Over 10 days, Hubble took a photograph of the same exact patch on the sky 342 times. They then added up the light from all 342 of these images. The result?

The Hubble Deep Field, taken by WFPC2. Every point of light in this image (except for about 6 which are dim stars) is a galaxy. Thousands upon thousands of new galaxies were discovered. Some were only a few million light years away, others were over ten billion light years away. All told, we learned that there are at least one hundred billion galaxies in our Universe. And we learned it from this single photograph.

Well, nearly a decade after this, they installed a new, better camera, called the Advanced Camera for Surveys. And to one-up the Hubble Deep Field, they picked a different blank patch of sky, went even deeper, and created the Hubble Ultra Deep Field. Take a look:

There are approximately 10,000 separate galaxies in this tiny little piece of sky. Well, the good folks at NASA and the ESA have created a 3-D flythough simulation of the image, showing you what it would look like if you actually flew through this image! Now that you know how distances work in cosmology, all they had to do was measure the redshift of each galaxy and program it in. Tony Darnell narrates it, and I've embedded it for you right here! (You can start at the 2:53 mark if you want to skip the intro.) And remember, as you watch it, that each dot of light in this image is a galaxy, comparable to our own Milky Way, with nearly a trillion stars, only one of which is our own Sun.

If you only watch one astronomy video this year, make it this one. (If you're going to watch two, watch this one, too.) This is unbelievable eye-candy, and I encourage you to enjoy it! Thanks to Nancy at Universe Today for pointing this out.

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Wow. That was gorgeous. I'm familiar with the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, but this is a breathtaking and emotional depiction of it.

It occurs to me now (and I'm sure this has occurred to others) that with Hubble, astronomers today have done something analogous to what Galileo did when he pointed his telescope at the sky and was astonished to see not void but innumerable stars too faint to be seen by the unaided eye. That revelation of a reality which is not only unseen but impossibly vast compared to the reality that we do see is profoundly humbling.

I am reminded also, though this isn't as momentous, of the discovery of ultraviolet patterns on flowers. Once used as evidence of a divine creator (since the beauty of the flowers clearly meant they were intended for the enjoyment of Man), once people worked out how to see things in ultraviolet, the reality became clear -- the pattern we see is purely unintentional, a byproduct of a completely different pattern visible only to the insects and birds which pollinate the flowers. The beauty of a flower doesn't belong to the world of Man after all, but the world of insects.

I am going to shut up now; I'm so awed by this video that I'm going to ramble endlessly if I don't stop now. ;-)

By Calli Arcale (not verified) on 12 Aug 2009 #permalink

Incredible video. I am amazed by this. I just found out about this blog and I really enjoy it. Keep on with the good work. Thank you so much for posting this.

By Randolph Lopez (not verified) on 12 Aug 2009 #permalink

I'm not sure if an atheist is allowed to say this, but..

My god... it's full of stars!

Simply awesome. I've often wondered how it would look rendered in 3D. I wish it wouldn't go quite so fast, but I have to wonder: how many times faster than lightspeed is the "camera" moving in that clip?

It's not just full of stars, Austin. Galaxies of stars. Great Odin's Hammer!

it's a cool video, for sure. but a nitpick... as you fly past, the faint galaxies should get brighter & bigger. and at the end of the video, there should be a baby floating out there. or something.

A baby? Instead let's put an alien from Independence Day on there. That way, they'll know we're serious.

By Odin & His… (not verified) on 12 Aug 2009 #permalink

Wonderful! Skip all the stupid manned stuff, employ all the resources in all countries and send more telescopes up there to form arrays.


And after all that...there are still people who believe some magical being created our lonely damn planet just for us, and no other life in the universe. THAT is incredible.

Well said.

Why do they say those are galaxies and not just stars? I mean, what's the criteria, and could I see it in the picture myself or are there reams of data that they analysed to determine which ones of those are galaxies?

And after all that...there are still people who believe we came from nowhere and going nowhere and that it's impossible that all these are creation of something, someone, magical or not. THAT is incredible.

By Maria Esteban (not verified) on 12 Aug 2009 #permalink

Once again, my understanding of the majesty of God's wonderful creation gains an exponent.

Heeey@12: It's pretty simple -- if those things are stars, then they're as bright as galaxies, i.e. as bright as billions of regular stars. (A supernova can almost shine that brightly, but only for a very short time.) There are a thousand other reasons why we know those are galaxies, of course -- I'm just pointing out the obvious one.

Hey Gordon, where's your god now? You egomaniacal a-hole. Oh yeah, he's raping little kids and taking money from the working class and giving it to mega-corporations. In his spare time, when he wants a laugh, he creates asskissers like you to clownishly blather on about how glorious it is to lick the boots of the criminal extortionist mafia called religion.


He had been instructed only in that innocent and ineffectual way in which the catholic priests teach the aborigines, by which the pupil is never educated to the degree of consciousness, but only to the degree of trust and reverence, and a child is not made a man, but kept a child.
[ Thoreau ]

These stupid peasants, who throughout the world, hold potentates on their thrones, make statesmen illustrious, provide generals with lasting victories, all with ignorance, indifferences, or half-witted hatred, moving the world with the strength of their arms, and getting their heads knocked together, in the name of god, the king, or the stock exchange - immortal, dreaming, hopeless asses, who surrender their reason to the care of a shining puppet, and persuade some toy to carry their lives in his purse.
[ Stephen Crane ]

Now get back to god's plantation and get to pickin' cotton for your enslavers, uncle tom, you worthless cowardly pansy.

well - duh!

By Anonymous (not verified) on 12 Aug 2009 #permalink

Witness once again the work of HIS holy noodly appendages. RAmen!

Does anyone else see a circular pattern in the Ultra Deep Field photo? It's just like the photo would have been taken with a fisheye lens.

By Anonymous (not verified) on 12 Aug 2009 #permalink

Perhaps you notice a lensing effect, causes by stars in the forground?

And so the atheists begin bashing the religious. *That* is stupid behavior (intolerance).

By Bob Jeffry (not verified) on 13 Aug 2009 #permalink

It's just as stupid behavior to assume that there is a god when clearly there is no physical evidence besides a book that says he is real. Well there are tons of books out there that say vampires, boogie monsters, and unicorns are real but clearly they do not exist so what makes god the exception? The Hubble is giving us an extraordinary view of how immense and enormous the universe really is - true, physical evidence - and you religious people say god created it. Religious people have their beliefs and non-religious people have theirs, leave it at that but stop bringing god into science. He doesn't belong there.

On the astronomical abundance of matter a physical process allows a chemical event to occur which leads to something biological, but how often? Perhaps the most profound question of all.

Absolutely stunning and humbling. Superlatives fail. Does anyone know the piece of background music?

By The Commish (not verified) on 13 Aug 2009 #permalink

Let the atheists believe what they want to believe. In the end, if the people who believe in God are wrong, no big deal ... nothing happens. However, in the end, if the atheists are wrong ... welllllll, you guys are f***ed. Have a nice day.

Also Sprach Zarathustra!!!!!!!!!!! :D Strauss is the man!

I can't believe there is SOOO much going on up there! All those stars and galaxies.... how wonderfully fantastic that there is so much to explore. I cannot wait for the day when we can send people to the far reaches to see what's out there.

But this kind of thing does make you wonder how we became as intelligent as we are now on such a tiny planet in one miniscule portion of the universe... and how ALL of that came into existence out there. Surely all of this could not happen on it's own.

Hey! How did this turn into a thread about religion? If you want one so bad about religious beliefs, I'll write one, but save it for then, please.

In the meantime, please be civil to one another. You're all in awe of the same Universe.

If your belief in God stems from the fear of the afterlife (which may not even exist) then you are truly a sheep of the religious leaders. Open your eyes people, humans don't need God or anything else the Bible and other religious texts have to offer. Intolerance is one thing, discarding blind faith is another, of which religion falls into the latter.

Fantastic post Ethan! Your explanation was very clear and concise. It can be quite challenging explaining this type of content.

A further thank-you for inspiring me to finally write an article about the HUDF image. Every time I see it I'm in awe, your post and the accompanied vid gave me the push I needed to write it:


I remember when I first read Sagan's Cosmos I was absolutely floored!

Hey! How did this turn into a thread about religion? If you want one so bad about religious beliefs, I'll write one, but save it for then, please.

Thinking about this I find that I hope you don't write one. There are plenty of sites that explore the religion/science issue and, while I enjoy a good knock-down drag-out fight as much as the next guy, what I really enjoy about your blog is the focus on science, your clear and understandable explanations and, specifically, the joy you express about what has been discovered. This is, of course, your blog and you can blog about anything you want, I'm just saying.

Fantastic post, Ethan. Thank you. But, the religion debate is inevitable when man considers his place in this amazing and expanding universe.
Do scientific minds really look at the unfathomable vastness of a constantly changing universe, with a narrow understanding of both the matter and energy throughout, and think it's all the result of lucky breaks?
If anything, the slim chance we have at merely existing in this enormous universe is only the tip of the iceberg. If a statistician sat down and figured not only our chances at existing, but evolving, thriving, developing technology and art, and surviving the threats we face on our planet alone, wouldn't a reasonable mind think that these can't all be mere coincidence?

Ian: You have a fundamental misunderstanding of both faith and religion. (The two aren't always hand-in-hand.) Faith is actually the opposite of fear (for example: those with faith don't fear hell, since we're not going).
And the Bible has a lot more to offer than you've assumed is in there: compassion, charity, forgiveness, unity, sacrifice, hope and love. Yeah, we don't need anything like that in the world. Try reading the Book before you bash it.

By Chicago ExPat (not verified) on 13 Aug 2009 #permalink

Beautiful... Absolutely beautiful. No words can describe. The sight of all those galaxies makes me a bit emotional. It's breathtaking. These images I feel show a perspective of the soul of the universe, of matter, form, life and all things that are wonderful. It's no surprise there is religion in these comments. Though I don't hold to the idea that it is a man in the clouds waiting to judge us, it is definitely a very vast, complicated, and many times beautiful concept, which we can't even begin to summarize with a thousand books, much like the universe.


is there a theoretical limit to what we can see what we can reach? With other words, by the time we have wf9, do we see every last galaxy there is, or would wf10 find more that we missed?

incredible! breathtaking! astonishing! What an abundance of life must exist in this universe! Who cares if we have no tangible proof! I am at peace with this belief.

By coolbirth (not verified) on 13 Aug 2009 #permalink

How did this turn into a thread about religion?

Because people have a desperate need to validate their beliefs. I have seen posts about cats where people commented that cats proved the existence of their god. Certainly one with awesome photos of galaxies could do no less.

Awesome video - thanks.

By Marc McDonald (not verified) on 13 Aug 2009 #permalink

The embedded video is a little smaller than the one at Youtube.com so you may want to watch it there.

By RobertSeattle (not verified) on 13 Aug 2009 #permalink

Why not point for longer? Three weeks? A month? Or is just under two weeks a limit of sorts?


They could, it's just that there's only one Hubble and a lot of great things to do with it. There's also another problem, if you want to see something that's half as bright as what you can see with Hubble, you need to point with it for four times as long. So at some point, they just say, "You know what? There are other, more important uses of this telescope. Let's look at something else." But they could always go back...

If something is moving away from us faster then the speed of light how can we see it?

By Heathwood (not verified) on 13 Aug 2009 #permalink

to say there God is not real after seeing something like that.. God is and loves you all

but god said to his creation there will be no end. this is a pretty good example of that statement if you ask me.

By justsayin (not verified) on 13 Aug 2009 #permalink

And the 'universe' is all in variations English?

It is all in the mind.

What a beautiful picture, it is sad that a person can not stop his/her bickering and need to feel superior and right for a few minutes to enjoy something as wondrous as this

If it is moving faster than the speed of light then what are we seeing?

"If something is moving away from us faster then the speed of light how can we see it?"

Their speed is accelerating. The light we see escaped billions of years ago, so today they are moving away at light speed +, but not when we saw them.

Space is expanding, so more space is expanding more, so enough space causes expansion above the speed of light.

By whiskeythief (not verified) on 14 Aug 2009 #permalink

Just wanted everyone to know that I took a bath today. With an alien... while we ate something that looked like meatballs and noodles... while listening to Molly Hatchet. He promised to cuddle after removing his "probe" but nothing came of it. I prayed and feel better. Now what is all this religious stuff about?

By JJ Walker (not verified) on 14 Aug 2009 #permalink

at 2:45 you claim Edwin Hubble measured redshifts. This is not true. He actually measured the distance which is much, much more difficult. He then noticed that they correlated: v = H_0*D.

By the way: he got all distances wrong by a factor of about 10, meaning the universe was only a couple of billion years old. This is the reason no one initially believed him as there are objects in the universe demonstrably older than that.

all the same: awesome, awesome movie about the ultra deep field.

Excellent imagery and content, but lose the wackoid self-portrait (feh!): You almost lost the opportunity for a positive comment (what bloggers all subconsciously crave) because it undercuts your message, giving potential readers the wrong impression, that you're like every other stunt-monger on the W3.

Again, nice site.

By Maui Mike (not verified) on 14 Aug 2009 #permalink

"And worlds without number have I created; and I also created them for mine own purpose; and by the Son I created them, which is mine Only Begotten."

No human words can describe this, so im just leaving u to watch the film and look at the picture because the picture tells its storry by it self.

Nice post! And viewed by as many people as there are stars in the universe! No wonder you came under such scrutiny...

By Name Withheld (not verified) on 22 Aug 2009 #permalink

A baby? Instead let's put an alien from Independence Day on there. That way, they'll know we're serious.

By Odin & His… (not verified) on 12 Aug 2009 #permalink

A baby? Instead let's put an alien from Independence Day on there. That way, they'll know we're serious.

By Odin & His… (not verified) on 12 Aug 2009 #permalink

u are so right there are alians out there and look at all the cool oddoly looking space thingys the are werid!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Yup! We're alone in the universe alright!

Just a thought ... we keep on being told that the universe is expanding and that it is continually being pushed outward (to who knows where). The interesting thing about that is the expansion goes faster as the points of reference (the space between galaxies) increase in distance away from each other. This causes me to pause. Under what circumstance would the speed increase as disance increases? I can think of only 2 possible models:
1. An electric universe
2. The universe is being pulled, not pushed.

By Brent Winstone (not verified) on 27 Apr 2010 #permalink

I Believe

I believe that we are one in separate bodies
Be they human, plant or animal or earth
And that we've reached separate stages of progression
But are equal to each other in our worth
I believe we hold Divinity within us
Each one of us immortal on our own
Call it Krishna, Allah, Vishnu, God or Zeus
Deep within the truth is plainly shown

I believe both time and space inconsequential
Here and now are part of there and then
And is and was and will no more essential
Than present, past and future, where and when
I believe this is a momentary visit
That we'll return as we have often done before
'Though precious is our life now, we won't miss it
As unfoldment brings us full around once more

Colder water tends to stay at bottom
And cream, it's noted, ascends to the top
Warm air rises; leaves turn yellow in the autumn
'Though some turn red, and some remain while others drop
We are the same and yet we contrast in reaction
By how far along our journey has evolved
'Though our differences may vary but a fraction
We remain the same where spirit is involved.

I believe we're here to learn, no other reason
Birth and death our only guarantee
And that living life, while here, within its season
Was long ago set out by destiny
That balance is a part of the equation
Both happiness and joy offset by grief
A momentary gain will soon be visited by pain
To pay the piper, such is my belief

I believe we draw towards us all the things that we desire
'Though deep within the confines of our heart
And if your lot is poor it is a lesson to inspire you to grow
By instigating a new start
That attachments take away from our ability to choose
The way we go about our lives upon this plane
Harmoniously detached until we've got something to lose
And then held back because of misdirected gain

I believe that there are energies about us
Being constantly influenced by our own
As sound waves break a glass, so too can mind waves move a mass
And feelings transfer out to whom they're thrown
There are patterns that were left here long before us
Ever present in their own time, and now too
Sitting, waiting to be picked up in a chorus
Should we open up our minds to let them through

I believe the earth a conscious, living being
Upon which parasitic consummation thrives
We claim to be the master race as she hurtles us through space
It is upon her that mankind, at least, survives
I believe what goes around comes back to haunt us
By returning to its origin the same
Thoughts and actions will respond in kind, but those which are unjust
Will be visited upon the one to blame

I believe in a superior position
Both in itself and there to be attained
As an ocean would be to a drop of water
So much larger yet, once joined, one and the same
A repository for our soul to linger
And that of all the universe as well
To reincarnate based upon the lessons that it's faced
Without believing in a heaven, nor a hell

I believe that inner peace is where you find it
In solitude or nestled in a crowd
The quality of one's engagement binds it
To the level that the spirit has allowed
Unfoldment is the natural progression
As we go along the path from day to day
Regardless of our personal intention
What is to be establishes The Way

That once we've reached the ultimate Nirvana
Evolving past our spirit's need to know
And mastered all the elements of Prana
Fulfilling every destiny of soul
Surpassing all the living and departed
Beyond imagination to conceive
We'll be no more ahead of when we started
United in Creation, I believe

- Brent

By Brent Winstone (not verified) on 27 Apr 2010 #permalink

Just a couple of thoughts:

1. Is believing the whole universe is moving away from us not a geocentric type of belief?

2. Evolution is a religion. It takes faith to believe in evolution just the same as it takes faith to believe in God. Is it harder to believe that we were made or that a rock is our grandpa?

A baby? Instead let's put an alien from Independence Day on there. That way, they'll know we're serious.

By Odin & His… (not verified) on 12 Aug 2009 #permalink

if you are mad at God or someones God tell God about it dont take it out on man. sounds like your mad at a God and taken it out on his people. its he/she's right to belive in what they want. I dont under stand why a god would let bad things happen on this little island earth.

NO. all wrong. MY god made it all. so there. Naa Naaa.
(you may not have heard of her before, but she's been very busy...)

A baby? Instead let's put an alien from Independence Day on there. That way, they'll know we're serious.

By Odin & His… (not verified) on 12 Aug 2009 #permalink

A baby? Instead let's put an alien from Independence Day on there. That way, they'll know we're serious.

By Odin & His… (not verified) on 12 Aug 2009 #permalink

A baby? Instead let's put an alien from Independence Day on there. That way, they'll know we're serious.

By Odin & His… (not verified) on 12 Aug 2009 #permalink

A baby? Instead let's put an alien from Independence Day on there. That way, they'll know we're serious.

By Odin & His… (not verified) on 12 Aug 2009 #permalink

Hmm it seems like your blog ate my first comment (it was super long) so I guess I'll just sum it up what I had written and say, I'm thoroughly enjoying your blog. I too am an aspiring blog writer but I'm still new to everything. Do you have any helpful hints for inexperienced blog writers? I'd really appreciate it.|