An international team of scientists today released the largest near-infrared image ever taken by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, allowing astronomers to map the star-forming regions of the universe and learn how the oldest and most distant galaxies originated. Dubbed 3D-DASH, this high-resolution survey will allow researchers to find rare objects and targets for follow-up observations with the newly launched James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) during its decades-long mission.
A preprint of the article to be published in The Astrophysical Journal is available on arXiv.
“Since its launch more than 30 years ago, the Hubble Space Telescope has led a renaissance in the study of how galaxies have changed in the last 10 billion years of the universe,” says Lamiya Mowla, Dunlap Fellow at the College of Arts and Dunlap Institute for Astronomy. & Astrophysics from Science at the University of Toronto and lead author of the study. “The 3D-DASH program extends Hubble’s legacy into wide-area imaging so we can begin to unravel the mysteries of galaxies beyond our own.”
For the first time, 3D-DASH provides researchers with a complete near-infrared survey of the entire COSMOS field, one of the richest data fields for extragalactic studies beyond the Milky Way. As the longest and reddest wavelength observed with Hubble – right after what is visible to the human eye – near-infrared means astronomers are better able to see older galaxies that are further away.
Astronomers also need to search a vast area of the sky to find rare objects in the universe. Until now, such a large image was only available from the ground and suffered from low resolution, which limited what could be observed. 3D-DASH will help identify unique phenomena such as the most massive galaxies in the universe, highly active black holes and galaxies on the verge of colliding and merging into one.
“I’m curious about monstrous galaxies, which are the most massive in the universe formed by the merger of other galaxies. How did their structures grow and what drove the changes in their shape?” says Mowla, who began working on the project in 2015 as a graduate student at Yale University. “It was difficult to study these extremely rare events using existing imagery, which motivated the design of this large survey.”
To visualize such an expansive patch of sky, the researchers employed a new technique with Hubble known as Drift And SHift (DASH). DASH creates an image eight times larger than Hubble’s standard field of view, capturing multiple photos that are stitched together into a master mosaic, similar to taking a panoramic photo on a smartphone.
DASH also takes images faster than the typical technique, taking eight photos per Hubble orbit instead of one photo, achieving in 250 hours what would previously have taken 2,000 hours.
“3D-DASH adds a new layer of unique observations in the COSMOS field and is also a springboard for space research in the next decade,” says Ivelina Momcheva, head of data science at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy and principal investigator of the study. “This gives us a preview of future scientific discoveries and allows us to develop new techniques to analyze these large datasets.”
3D-DASH covers a total area nearly six times the size of the moon in the sky as seen from Earth. That record will likely remain intact by the JWST, Hubble’s successor, which is built for sensitive, close-up imaging to capture fine details of a small area. It’s the largest infrared image of the sky available to astronomers until the next generation of telescopes launches within the next decade, such as the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope and Euclid.
Until then, professional astronomers and amateur stargazers can explore the skies using an interactive online version of the 3D-DASH image created by Gabriel Brammer, professor at the Cosmic Dawn Center at the Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen.
The Hubble Space Telescope is an international cooperation project between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA). NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center manages the telescope in Greenbelt, Maryland. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, conducts Hubble’s science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy in Washington, D.C.
The full image is available from the Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes.
Hubble captures a peculiar pair of spiral galaxies
3D-DASH: Hubble Space Telescope’s widest near-infrared survey, arXiv:2206.01156 [astro-ph.GA] arxiv.org/abs/2206.01156
Provided by the University of Toronto
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