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Hubble Telescope Captures Colorful, Vivid Snapshot of the Universe

Jun 04, 2014 01:19 PM EDT

Astronomers wielding NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have assembled a comprehensive snapshot of the evolving Universe - one of the most colorful, vivid images ever captured.

Released Tuesday, the panorama looks into deep and far space, showing about 10,000 multi-colored galaxies extending back in time to within a few hundred million years of the Big Bang. Researchers say the new image reveals a missing link in galaxy formation, a time when the hottest, largest and youngest stars ruled the galaxy.

The photo is actually a composite pieced together from more than 800 images taken by the 24-year-old Hubble between 2003 and 2012. Astronomers previously studied the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF) in visible and near-infrared light, but for the first time, it includes ultraviolet light.

"Looking in the ultraviolet we see the youngest stars, and we see them directly when they're not obscured. Seeing where, when and how these stars formed can tell us how galaxies evolved from their very infant stages into the kind of galaxies that we see today," astronomer Harry Tiplitz, with the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, told reporters at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Boston, as reported by Discovery News.

The spinning galaxies are about five to 10 billion years old, a period during which most of the stars in the Universe were born. Normally studying such stars was impossible because astronomers would have to wait too long for the stars to travel into visible range.

"The lack of information from ultraviolet light made studying galaxies in the HUDF like trying to understand the history of families without knowing about the grade-school children," Teplitz said in a NASA press release. "The addition of the ultraviolet fills in this missing range."

The ultraviolet capabilities of Hubble are incredibly important, but this ultra-deep look into space is the last for the foreseeable future. NASA is building the James Webb Space Telescope to replace Hubble, which only can collect data from infrared light.

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