Just-released photos from the Hubble space telescope have unveiled the earliest and deepest images into the universe to date. Scientists around the world are trying to decipher the Hubble images that peer into space 13 billion light years away to try to understand how galaxies originate.
The master image, a compilation of more than 800 pictures taken by the Hubble Telescope over several months, appears as a dark sky with what looks like bright white stars, yellow, orange and pink dots and comets.
But scientists say the image reveals ancient galaxies never seen before, from the dark ages of the universe, about 700 million years after the Big Bang, when the universe was believed to be formed.
The Space Telescope Science Institute, in Baltimore, Maryland has made the data available to scientists around the world.
Just after the data was released, astrophysicists at the American Museum of Natural History in New York used a giant, noisy, computer to download the information.
Curator of the Museum's Physical Science's Division, Michael Shara, says scientists are using the images from 13 billion light years away to answer the age-old questions about the history of the universe.
"What are the building blocks that built galaxies? We do not know. Our hope is that by teasing out each individual object inside this deep image we will be able to begin to answer that huge question -- where did galaxies come from?" he said.
For the next week, teams from the American Museum of Natural History, Columbia University and the State University of New York at Stonybrook, are trying to decode the image.
In order to get as much work done as possible, the astrophysicists have split up their tasks. The Columbia University team will look for some of the most distant objects and dramatic changes captured in the Hubble image, such as exploding stars and black holes. The Stonybrook astrophysicists will use the latest computer techniques to measure the brightness of the faintest images and to calculate their age and distance. The museum team will try to identify icy objects and their properties.
Mr. Shara says the public has been invited to watch the scientists at work. "We think there is some really cool science that can and should be done with these images," he said, "and both we and other teams around the world are literally engaged in a race to try to extract that science first and publish it in reputable peer reviewed science journals. But no less important, I think, is the fact that we have invited the public to come in and take a look at what we are doing, to see that it is not mystical, we do not pull these answers out of a hat."
Interpreters are available to explain the astrophysicists' analysis. Teenagers from local high schools have already had the chance to ask questions.
One student asked, "You have said that there is a lot of different matter that is falling and exploding. Has the Hubble seen of it?" Mr. Shara answered, "There are multiple answers to your question and the answer is yes, yes and yes, and the reason is there are different kinds of exploding objects in here, there is matter falling into galaxies and there are also different kinds of explosions that we hope to see."
The images have been released just weeks after NASA announced that the Hubble Telescope will be retired and allowed to degrade.