NASA's Hubble and Spitzer telescopes have captured images of distant fuzzy galaxies bursting with star formation, giving scientists a view of the galaxies that are responsible for most of the stars we see today.
Some of these bright galaxies are forming stars 50 times faster than our galaxy, the Milky Way. While these nascent galaxies are only a twentieth the size of the Milky Way, they probably contain a billion stars crammed together.
Hubble has looked at distant galaxies in its 30 years of operation, but this new project, called Frontier Fields, used data from the Spitzer telescope and the Chandra X-ray Observatory. The findings were presented Tuesday at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society at National Harbor.
The images show the earliest star formations of the universe, during its "blue period," when the young stars were blue, much like other young and hot stars observed in constellations. But these galaxies appeared red in the images, largely because their light has been stretched out over billions of years.
One of the galaxies is a cluster called Abell 2744, which contains hundreds of galaxies3.5 billion light-years away. Their massive gravitational pull acts like a lens and magnifies galaxies far in the background that may have never been seen before.
This phenomenon, gravitational lensing, is based on Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, which describes how gravity curves the fabric of space and time.
While the universe was formed nearly 13 billion years ago, these pictures provide the best data scientists have to understand early galaxy and star formation.