Hubble takes the largest near-infrared image to find the rarest galaxies in the universe

A patch of sky imaged by 3D-DASH, showing the brightest and rarest things in the universe like monstrous galaxies. Credit: Gabi Brammer

An international team of scientists today released the largest near-infrared image captured by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, enabling astronomers to map star-forming regions in the universe and learn how the oldest and most distant galaxies originated. This high-resolution survey, called 3D-DASH, will allow researchers to find rare objects and targets for follow-up observations with the recently launched James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) during its decades-long mission.

An initial copy of the paper to be published in Astrophysical Journal Available at arXiv.

“Since its launch more than 30 years ago, the Hubble Space Telescope has led a renaissance in studying how galaxies have changed in the last 10 billion years of the universe,” says Lamia Mulla, Dunlap Fellow at the University of Toronto’s Dunlap College of Art & Science Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics and lead author to study. “3D-DASH expands Hubble’s legacy in large-scale imaging so we can begin to unravel mysteries of galaxies beyond our own.”

For the first time, 3D-DASH provides researchers with a complete near-infrared scan of the entire COSMOS field, one of the richest data fields for extragalactic studies outside the Milky Way. Because the longer, redder wavelength observed with Hubble – beyond what is visible to the human eye – the near-infrared means astronomers are better able to see the first distant galaxies.

Astronomers also need to search a vast expanse of the sky to find rare things in the universe. Until now, such a large image was only available from Earth and had poor resolution, which limited what could be observed. The 3D-DASH system will help identify unique phenomena such as the most massive galaxies in the universe, highly energetic black holes and galaxies on the verge of colliding and merging into one.

The Hubble Space Telescope captured the entire COSMOS field by stitching multiple images together into one master image, a process called mosaicism. Credit: Evelina Momcheva

“I am curious about monster galaxies, which are the largest megagalaxies in the universe that were formed by mergers of other galaxies. How did their structures grow, and what prompted the changes in their shape?” says Mola, who began working on the project in 2015 when he was a graduate student at Yale University. “It was difficult to study these very rare events using existing images, which motivated the design of this large survey.”

To image such an extended patch of sky, the researchers used a new technique with Hubble known as Drift And Shift (DASH). DASH creates an image eight times larger than the standard field of view of the Hubble telescope by taking multiple shots that are stitched together into a single master mosaic, similar to taking a panoramic image on a smartphone.

DASH also takes pictures faster than usual technology, taking eight Hubble images instead of one, and achieving in 250 hours what would have taken 2,000 previously.

The Hubble Space Telescope takes the largest near-infrared image to find the rarest galaxies in the universe

Galaxies from the past 10 billion years have been seen in the 3D-DASH program, which was created using the 3D-DASH/F160W and ACS-COSMOS/F814W imager. Credit: Lamia Al Mawla

“3D-DASH adds a new layer of unique observations in the field of COSMOS and is also a stepping stone for space surveys in the next decade,” says Ivelina Momcheva, Head of Data Science at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy and lead researcher on the study. “It gives us a sneak peek into future scientific discoveries and allows us to develop new techniques for analyzing these large data sets.”

3D-DASH covers a total area six times the size of the moon in the sky as seen from Earth. This record is likely to be kept unbroken by JWST, which was instead created for sensitive and close-up images to capture fine detail of a small area. It’s the largest near-infrared image of the sky available to astronomers until the launch of the next generation of telescopes in the next decade, such as the Roman and Euclid’s Nancy Grace telescope.

Until then, professional astronomers and amateur stargazers alike can explore the sky using an online interactive version of the 3D-DASH image created by Gabriel Brammer, a professor at the Cosmic Dawn Center at the Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen.

The Hubble Space Telescope takes the largest near-infrared image to find the rarest galaxies in the universe

Magnified panels on the 3D-DASH depth map reveal a wealth of bright objects to study. Credit: Mowla et al. 2022

The Hubble Space Telescope is an international collaboration project between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA). NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center operates the telescope in Greenbelt, Maryland. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Consortium of Universities for Research in Astronomy in Washington, DC

The full image is available at the Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes.

Hubble captures a strange pair of spiral galaxies

more information:
3D-DASH: Hubble Space Telescope’s widest survey near-infrared, arXiv: 220601156 [astro-ph.GA]

Presented by the University of Toronto

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