Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Close to the Big Bang

Here is the latest deep-field photo by the Hubble telescope.

Click image to view larger.
Called the eXtreme Deep Field, the picture captures a mass of galaxies stretching back almost to the time when the first stars began to shine. 
But this was no simple point and snap - some of the objects in this image are too distant and too faint for that. 
Rather, this view required Hubble to stare at a tiny patch of sky for more than 500 hours to detect all the light, 
"It's a really spectacular image," said Dr Michele Trenti, a science team member from the University of Cambridge, UK. 
"We stared at this patch of sky for about 22 days, and have obtained a very deep view of the distant Universe, and therefore we see how galaxies were looking in its infancy."
Most people know that the universe is expanding, but not many non-astronomers are familiar with the theory of inflation, which reveals that the term "Big Bang" is misleading. Instead, says NASA's "Universe 101" web site, the universe's creation "is better thought of as the simultaneous appearance" of the universe everywhere there is the universe.

Inflation theory holds that the universe went from nothing at all to more than 99 percent of its present size in less than one-billionth of a billionth of a second – which is to say, instantly. So while empirical data, especially the uniformity of cosmic background radiation, support the conclusion  the universe began from a single point, from any reasonable human perspective there was no explosion. The universe simply appeared everywhere at once, instantaneously.

Inflation theory explains how the image of the galaxy enclosed in a square, above, can be thought to be the galaxy when it was only 460 million years old (making it presumptively the oldest object ever photographed). Stars and galaxies did not form right away after creation, but this galaxy was already billions of light years distant from ours when it came together.

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