In 1995 Robert Williams had a crazy idea. Then director of the Space Telescope Science Institute, he decided to use his allocated time on the Hubble Space Telescope to train its mirror on one tiny spot of the sky—a dark, starless region near the handle of the Big Dipper. Over ten consecutive days the telescope took a series of 342 time-exposure photographs, images that were combined and computer-enhanced to produce the most deeply penetrating astronomical picture of its time. It was called the Hubble Deep Field.
What this stunning picture revealed were some 2,000 galaxies in different stages of development. Like a cosmological core sample, it displayed galaxies in the local, intermediate, and distant universe altogether, out to some 12 billion light-years.
Now a team of astronomers has assembled the eXtreme Deep Field, or XDF for short. They’ve combined ten years worth of data taken by Hubble (some 2,000 images in all) from a patch of sky in the constellation Fornax. This one digs some 13.2 billion years back into time, to just half a billion years after the Big Bang.
All I can say upon gazing at this image is, “Wow!” How can anyone doubt the possibility of other life beyond the solar system when we have these myriad cosmic cradles sprinkled through space and time.