New infrared images from the Ultra Deep Survey (UDS) have revealed a spectacular glimpse of the distant universe, offering the deepest view ever of more than 250,000 existing galaxies.

Led by Astrophysics Professor Omar Almaini, a team of astronomers from the University of Nottingham released the images in late June and presented them at the National Astronomy Meeting.

The release of the UDS data is the culmination of an 11-year project that began gathering data in 2005. University of Nottingham scientists used a telescope in Hawaii known as United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIT) to observe the same patch of sky frequently, collecting more than 1,000 hours of exposure time.

What Scientists Can Learn From The Infrared Images

Infrared observations are important in studying the known universe, especially because ordinary starlight is "redshifted" to longer wavelengths. This is due to the universe's cosmological expansion, researchers said.

The final data from UDS maps an area that is four times the size of the full moon. Hundreds of thousands of galaxies, including those observed within the first billion years after the Big Bang, were included in the map.

Astronomers across the world can use the new infrared images to investigate the early stages of evolution and formation of galaxies in the known universe.

And because the speed of light is finite, the farthest galaxies can be observed very far back in time.

Almaini says with the use of the UDS, however, scientists can study distant galaxies even in large numbers and they can observe how these galaxies evolved at different periods in the universe's history. They will see most of the galaxies billions of years prior to the formation of Earth.

David Maltby, a postdoc fellow at the university, says they have yet to understand how galaxies grew to produce their rich diversity. For instance, the most massive galaxies are elliptical in shape, while less massive ones tend to be disk-shaped with spiral arms.

Maltby adds that by tracing back to the infancy of the universe, they can catch galaxies in their early stages and observe them as they change over billions of years.

What Past Research Has Produced

Earlier releases of UDS data have already revealed a wide range of scientific advances, such as the investigation of the earliest galaxies during the first billion years following the Big Bang.

This also includes the measurement of build-up of galaxies through cosmic time, as well as the study of large-scale distribution of galaxies to measure the mysterious "dark matter" that permeates the universe. The added depth from the new images is expected to produce many scientific breakthroughs, scientists added.

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