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On the Frontier

March 9, 2015

Hubble Space Telescope has been pushing the frontiers of astronomy for a quarter of a century — looking deeper into space than ever before. And right now, it’s working with NASA’s other Great Observatories — Chandra and Spitzer — to look deeper than ever. They’re using lenses in space to magnify the view of some of the most distant galaxies — some of which were born soon after the Big Bang.

The project is known as Frontier Fields. The space telescopes are taking pictures of six giant clusters of galaxies.

Each telescope looks at each field for days at a time. Hubble uses one of its instruments for one set of observations, then another instrument six months later to see the field at different wavelengths.

The observations provide a lot of information about each cluster — its mass, its temperature, and how much dark matter it contains. Dark matter outweighs the normal matter, but the only way to trace it is through its gravitational effects.

And some of those effects reveal details about more-distant galaxies. The gravity of each cluster acts as a lens. It magnifies the view of galaxies behind the cluster, making it possible to see galaxies that would otherwise remain hidden.

Some of those galaxies are up to 13 billion light-years away. These were the first galaxies to take shape, so studying them provides important details about how stars and galaxies formed in the early universe.

More tomorrow.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2015

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