Astronomers find universe’s rarest galaxies after Hubble Telescope captures largest near-infrared image

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Astronomers are now able to peer deeply into the rarest galaxies in the universe. The Hubble Space Telescope captured the largest near-infrared image, enabling an international team of scientists to map the star-forming regions of the universe and learn how the earliest, most distant galaxies came to be.

3D-DASH, a high-resolution survey, will allow researchers to find rare objects and targets for follow-up observations with the James Webb Space Telescope during its decades-long mission.

“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 study lead author Lamiya Mowla, Dunlap Fellow at the Faculty of Arts and Science’s Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Toronto, in a statement. “The 3D-DASH program extends Hubble’s legacy in wide-area imaging so we can begin to unravel the mysteries of the galaxies beyond our own.”

Researchers, for the first time, now have a complete near-infrared survey of the entire COSMOS field, thanks to 3D-DASH. Astronomers are better able to see the earliest galaxies that are the farthest away. The 3D-DASH technology will help to identify the universe’s most massive galaxies, highly active black holes and galaxies on the brink of colliding and merging into one.

Galaxies in 3D-DASH
Galaxies from the last 10 billion years witnessed in the 3D-DASH program, created using 3D-DASH/F160W and ACS-COSMOS/F814W imaging. (Credit: Lamiya Mowla)

“I am curious about monster galaxies, which are the most massive ones in the universe formed by the mergers of other galaxies. How did their structure grow, and what drove the changes in their form?” explains Mowla. “It was difficult to study these extremely rare events using existing images, which is what motivated the design of this large survey.”

DASH is able to create an image that is eight times larger than Hubble’s standard field of view by capturing multiple shots that are stitched together into one master mosaic. The new technology also snaps eight pictures per Hubble’s orbit instead of just one. 3D-DASH covers a total area nearly six times the size of the moon in the sky as seen from Earth.

“3D-DASH adds a new layer of unique observations in the COSMOS field and is also a steppingstone to the space surveys of the next decade,” says study principal investigator Ivelina Momcheva, head of data science at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy. “It gives us a sneak peak of future scientific discoveries and allows us to develop new techniques to analyze these large datasets.”

The study is published in The Astrophysical Journal.

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Matt Higgins

A tortured Philadelphia sports fan, Matt Higgins was previously the digital managing editor for He has been working in news for the last 15 years, including the last ten in digital.

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