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Tuesday, November 24, 1998 Published at 13:20 GMT


Hubble's deep space core

Hubble has "drilled" a hole in space for astronomers to study

By BBC News Online Science Editor David Whitehouse

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has peered deep into space opening a 12 billion light-year long corridor to the edge of the universe.

The "Hubble Deep Field South" shows thousands of never-before seen galaxies.

It will now act as a target for follow-up observations by astronomers using ground-based equipment.

The deep field doubles the number of far-flung galaxies available to scientists for them to use to decipher the history of the universe.

It complements the original Hubble deep field taken in 1995, when the telescope studied a small patch of space in the northern sky near the Plough.

The theory was to observe a seemingly blank patch of sky and see what could be detected. Hopefully, because there were no nearby objects, a deep view of the universe could be obtained.

The new region, almost at the exact opposite part of the sky from the original deep field is in the constellation Tucana, near the south celestial pole.

Impact on astronomy

The 10-day-long observation was carried out in October.

"The southern field promises to be the most studied area of the sky over the next five years," says Hubble astronomer Robert Williams.

"We have eagerly awaited this new set of images ever since the first Hubble Deep Field, which had a dramatic impact on the entire science of astronomy."

"Hubble's deep field views revealed a large, heretofore unseen fraction of the universe and opened it up to interpretation and understanding."

The two deep fields now give astronomers two "core samples" of the universe for better understanding the history of the cosmos.

It is an astronomical gold mine for powerful new ground-based telescopes located in the southern hemisphere to undertake follow-up observations of galaxies and precisely measure their distances.

The galaxies in the deep field image have their light "redshifted" to longer wavelengths by the expansion of the universe and are likely to be the most distant ever observed.

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