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Astronomers release spectacular survey of the distant Universe

Last Updated on Tuesday, 28 June 2016 13:15
Published on Tuesday, 28 June 2016 08:39

Astronomers today (28 June) released spectacular new infrared images of the distant Universe, providing the deepest view ever obtained over a large area of sky. The team, led by Prof Omar Almaini, present their results at the National Astronomy Meeting at the University of Nottingham.

The final data release from the Ultra-Deep Survey (UDS) maps an area four times the size of the full Moon to unprecedented depth. Over 250,000 galaxies have been detected, including several hundred observed within the first billion years after the Big Bang. Astronomers around the world will use the new images to study the early stages of galaxy formation and evolution.

Almaini zoomy smallAn image of a small section (0.4%) of the UDS field. Most of the objects in the image are very distant galaxies, observed as they were over 9 billion years ago. In the full image, 250,000 galaxies have been detected over an area of sky four times the size of the full Moon. Credit: Omar Almaini, University of Nottingham. Click for a larger image

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The release of the final UDS images represents the culmination of a project that began taking data in 2005. The scientists used the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) on Hawaii to observe the same patch of sky repeatedly, building up more than 1000 hours of exposure time. Observing in the infrared is vital for studying very distant objects, as ordinary starlight is "redshifted" to longer wavelengths due to the cosmological expansion of the Universe.

Because of the finite speed of light, the most distant galaxies are also observed very far back in time.

"With the UDS we can study distant galaxies in large numbers, and observe how they evolved at different stages in the history of the Universe. We see most of the galaxies in our image as they were billions of years before the Earth was formed", said Almaini.

The UDS is the deepest of 5 projects, collectively known as the UKIRT Infrared Deep Sky Survey (UKIDSS).

Earlier releases of data from the UDS have already produced a wide range of scientific advances, including studies of the earliest galaxies in the first billion years after the Big Bang, measurements of the build-up of galaxies through cosmic time, and studies of the large-scale distribution of galaxies to weigh the mysterious ‘dark matter’ that pervades the cosmos. The added depth from the new release is expected to produce many new breakthroughs.

"We are particularly keen to understand the dramatic transformation that many massive galaxies underwent around 10 billion years ago", said Dr William Hartley, a postdoctoral researcher at University College London. “At that time many galaxies appear to have abruptly stopped forming stars, and they also changed shape to form spheroidal-looking galaxies. We still don’t fully understand why this happens. With our new UDS images we expect to find large numbers of these galaxies, caught in the act of transformation, so we can study them in detail to solve this important puzzle.”


Media contacts

Dr Robert Massey
Royal Astronomical Society
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Ms Anita Heward
Royal Astronomical Society
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Dr Morgan Hollis
Royal Astronomical Society
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Dr Sam Lindsay
Royal Astronomical Society
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Lindsay Brooke
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The University of Nottingham
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Science contacts

Prof Omar Almaini
University of Nottingham
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Dr David Maltby
University of Nottingham
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Dr William Hartley
University College London
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Dr Chris Simpson
Gemini Observatory
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Prof Andy Lawrence
University of Edinburgh
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Images and captions

An image of a small section (0.4%) of the UDS field. Most of the objects in the image are very distant galaxies, observed as they were over 9 billion years ago. In the full image, 250,000 galaxies have been detected over an area of sky four times the size of the full Moon. Credit: Omar Almaini, University of Nottingham.

Gallery (including zoomable images)


Further information

  • The UKIDSS Ultra-Deep Survey
  • Nottingham Astronomy group
  • The 3.8-metre United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT)  is the world’s second largest telescope dedicated to infrared astronomy. UKIRT is sited near the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii, at an altitude of 4194 metres (13760 feet) above sea level. The telescope was owned and operated by the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council until 2014, when ownership transferred to the University of Hawaii.
  • The UKIRT Infrared Deep Sky Survey (UKIDSS) is a large astronomical project that began in 2005, using most of the available observing time on the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT). UKIDSS consists of 5 separate surveys, from shallow mapping of large areas of sky to deeper studies of the distant Universe. The UDS is the deepest of the UKIDSS surveys.

Notes to editors

The RAS National Astronomy Meeting 2016 (NAM 2016) takes place this year at the University of Nottingham from 27 June to 1 July. NAM 2016 brings together more than 500 space scientists and astronomers to discuss the latest research in their respective fields. The conference is principally sponsored by the Royal Astronomical Society, the Science and Technology Facilities Council and the University of Nottingham. Follow the conference on Twitter

The University of Nottingham has 43,000 students and is ‘the nearest Britain has to a truly global university, with a “distinct” approach to internationalisation, which rests on those full-scale campuses in China and Malaysia, as well as a large presence in its home city.’ (Times Good University Guide 2016). It is also one of the most popular universities in the UK among graduate employers and the winner of ‘Outstanding Support for Early Career Researchers’ at the Times Higher Education Awards 2015. It is ranked in the world’s top 75 by the QS World University Rankings 2015/16, and 8th in the UK by research power according to the Research Excellence Framework 2014. It has been voted the world’s greenest campus for four years running, according to Greenmetrics Ranking of World Universities.

Impact: The Nottingham Campaign, its biggest-ever fundraising campaign, is delivering the University’s vision to change lives, tackle global issues and shape the future.

The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) is keeping the UK at the forefront of international science and has a broad science portfolio and works with the academic and industrial communities to share its expertise in materials science, space and ground-based astronomy technologies, laser science, microelectronics, wafer scale manufacturing, particle and nuclear physics, alternative energy production, radio communications and radar. STFC's Astronomy and Space Science programme provides support for a wide range of facilities, research groups and individuals in order to investigate some of the highest priority questions in astrophysics, cosmology and solar system science. STFC's astronomy and space science programme is delivered through grant funding for research activities, and also through support of technical activities at STFC's UK Astronomy Technology Centre and RAL Space at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. STFC also supports UK astronomy through the international European Southern Observatory. Follow STFC on Twitter

The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), founded in 1820, encourages and promotes the study of astronomy, solar-system science, geophysics and closely related branches of science. The RAS organizes scientific meetings, publishes international research and review journals, recognizes outstanding achievements by the award of medals and prizes, maintains an extensive library, supports education through grants and outreach activities and represents UK astronomy nationally and internationally. Its more than 4000 members (Fellows), a third based overseas, include scientific researchers in universities, observatories and laboratories as well as historians of astronomy and others.

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