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Tuesday, October 13, 1998 Published at 23:30 GMT 00:30 UK


Looking back 12 billion years

Young galaxies at the edge of the universe

The Hubble Space Telescope has peered deeper into the universe than ever before, showing galaxies shortly after they were born - 12 billion years ago.

In 1995 Hubble astronomers produced an image called the Hubble Deep Field. It showed the most distant galaxies ever detected at the time.

Since then, using a new instrument on Hubble called NICMOS - the Near-Infra red Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer - it has been possible to look at a corner of the Hubble Deep Field and peer even further into space.

[ image: Hubble gets a service from the shuttle]
Hubble gets a service from the shuttle
The objects seen in the image are young galaxies in a region of space hitherto unexplored.

"NICMOS has parted the dark curtain that previously blocked our view of very distant objects," said Dr Richard Thompson of the University of Arizona.

Other astronomers are just as excited. "This is our first glimpse at the very remote universe," adds Alan Dressler of the Carnegie Observatories in California.

The new galaxies are seen as they were when the universe was a fraction of its present age. Current estimates put the age of the universe at about 15 billion years.

"This observation is a major step toward fulfilling one of Hubble's key objectives - to search for the furthest and faintest objects in the universe," said Ed Weiler of Nasa's Space Science department.

The new image will take many years to investigate and already astronomers are saying that telescopes even more powerful than Hubble will be needed to answer many of their questions.

The galaxies seen in the image are younger than those around today. They are smaller and contain many young stars.

How they formed and how they evolved into today's galaxies is one of the major unanswered questions on universe.

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