Hubble spots drop-dead gorgeous spiral galaxy tucked into Leo

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NASA and the European Space Agency shared a Hubble Space Telescope image this week of galaxy NGC 2903.

USA space agency NASA has named the resulting photograph, containing 265,000 galaxies which stretch back to mere 500 million years after the Big Bang, the Hubble Legacy Field. The new images are created using almost 7,500 individual exposures.

"Our goal was to assemble all 16 years of exposures into a legacy image", Dan Magee, the team's data processing lead, from the University of California, Santa Cruz, said in a Hubble press release.

The image yields a huge catalog of distant galaxies.

This full view of the Hubble Legacy Field shows the uneven edges cropped out of the "cleaner" image, above, showing off all of the roughly 265,000 galaxies contained in the composite.

Dr Garth Illingworth of the University of California-Santa Cruz, leader of the NASA research team, said: "This one image contains the full history of the growth of galaxies in the universe, from their times as "infants" to when they grew into fully-fledged 'adults".

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The Hubble Space Telescope has been taking some of the most breathtaking images of the deep universe since it was put into orbit many years ago. Astronomers were stunned to see more than 3,000 galaxies. The mosaic of images seen here document 16 years of observations for the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. Hubble has spent more time on this small area than on any other region of the sky, totaling more than 250 days. Galaxies allow astronomers to trace the expansion of the universe, offer clues to the underlying physics of the cosmos, show when the chemical elements originated, and enable the conditions that eventually led to the appearance of our solar system and life. Ground-based observations were unable to establish how galaxies formed and evolved in the early Universe.

In the case of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, the image captured 10,000 galaxies. The result is breathtaking: even more so when you consider that each of those lights is potentially a galaxy, which, like the Milky Way, could contain 100 billion stars. or more.

The worldwide team involved in the Hubble Legacy Field consists of G. Illingworth and D. Magee (University of California, Santa Cruz), K. Whitaker (University of Connecticut), R. Bouwens (Leiden University), P. Oesch (University of Geneva), and the Hubble Legacy Field team.

The Hubble Legacy Field combines observations taken by several Hubble deep-field surveys.

This image, called the Hubble eXtreme Deep Field (XDF), had a total of over two million seconds of exposure time, and was the deepest image of the universe ever made, combining data from previous images, including the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (taken in 2002 and 2003) and Hubble Ultra Deep Field Infrared (2009). The image revealed more than 5,000 galaxies in an area of the sky that was just a tenth of the width of the full moon. This way, it is able to capture more light, revealing what was once hidden.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of worldwide cooperation between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency). The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, conducts Hubble science operations.

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