Back in the 1960s when color TV programming was cutting edge, NBC-TV’s “Living Color” Peacock logo and announcement made sure we knew it. To the sound of trilling woodwinds and harp glissandos, the announcer would tell us that: “The following program is brought to you in living color on NBC.”
Time to bring back that peacock. Take a look at the Hubble Space Telescope’s revised Ultra Deep Field Image above and compare it to the one below — I think you’ll agree that living color’s back in a big way.
Called the Ultraviolet Coverage of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (UVUDF) project, astronomers used the Hubble’s Widefield Camera 3 to rephotograph the original field, a tiny patch of sky in the constellation Fornax as wide as what you’d see staring through an 8-foot-long soda straw. It was originally photographed in visible and infrared (dust penetrating) light. This time around ultraviolet filters were used to reveal a brand new dimension not only of color but also of star formation.
The hottest, most massive and youngest stars, which emit light in the ultraviolet portion of the spectrum and are keys markers of star formation, are a meek presence in the original which covered only visible and infrared light. The new view stretches all the way from ultraviolet to near-infrared light and required 841 orbits of telescope viewing time. With it, astronomers now have a much clearer look at star formation in distant galaxies.
Just as important, we can see where the stars are forming, helping us understand how galaxies like the Milky Way grew in size from small collections of very hot stars to the massive structures they are today. Crucially, with the addition of UV, we can now examine galaxies 5 and 10 billion light-years away from us, corresponding to a time period when most of the stars in the universe were born.