The Hubble Ultra Deep Field Image and why it’s a reason to smile

IDL TIFF file

That’s going to be blown up and framed, and hung above my desk very very soon. But it’s much more than a choice in interior decoration.

That’s the Hubble Ultra Deep Field Image, the clearest, most comprehensive image we have of the universe to date. Light from over 13 billion years has been captured in this image, which the Hubble Telescope took six days to put together. What they did right, the good people over at the Hubble site, they focused the telescope on a patch of sky for about 800 exposures in four months during 2004. The area itself is so tiny it would cover about one tenth of the face of the moon. That’s not even the best part. Of course, Brian Cox explains it better than I’ll ever be able to, but I’m going to have a go anyway.

Each little speck of light in that image is another galaxy. Not another planet, not another star, but another galaxy. Another collection of a billion spheres of light, spinning endlessly in a fixed point of gravity, stuck invisibly in space.

There are over 10,000 galaxies in that picture.

The point isn’t ‘we are not alone’, holding up a lit finger, the point is , there is so much that we still don’t know. More importantly, there is so much that I don’t know. And I know I can’t learn it all in one lifetime, I know that I can’t do everything, but if I don’t try, that’s a wasted life right there.

Putting the Drake Equation aside for a moment, we are currently the only known planet with life on it. Out of all those galaxies, all those solar systems, all those planets, this is the only place we know of with life on it. Life that looks through cheek cells on a microscope, life that holds hands and rides bikes, life that values pandas over blobfish because they’re cuddly, life that discovered cocoa pods. And however unlikely the chances were, we’re still here. We made it. We’re not going to be around forever, and in the history of the universe we’re no more than a little speck of dust, a little blob of ink. It’s so short and so unlikely, that it’s wonderful.

And that’s definitely something to smile about.

I know I do,

Astronomers liken the Hubble Ultra Deep Field to staring at the sky through an eight foot long soda straw. You can either make your own, or watch Brian Cox explain the whole thing in his seamlessly eloquent way here:

Or take a tour of it on the Hubble website here:

http://hubblesite.org/gallery/tours/tour-hudf/

And once again, space becomes an instant pick me up.

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