This is page 5 of the collection of the 50 most spectacular galaxy pictures of all time. It displays the Hubble Deep Fields and other miscellaneous galaxies. Use the navigation pager near the bottom of each page to view all other pages. You can also view all the galaxy pictures along with their descriptions on a single page.
When we look at the sky, we mostly see stars of our own Milky Way Galaxy. These stars can obscure the views of faint, extremely distant galaxies. Luckily, there are dark patches in the sky which are devoid of foreground stars. These regions provide 'peepholes' to peer out of the Milky Way Galaxy. In December 1995, astronomers chose one of the peepholes located at a high galactic latitude in the direction of the Ursa Major (Great Bear) constellation, and zoomed in the Hubble Space Telescope to find out what lied out there. They were amazed to discover an assortment of more than 1,500 galaxies in various stages of evolution. These galaxies are billions of light-years away from the Earth. Among them, the most distant ones are thought to have formed about 13.2 billion years ago i.e. when the Universe was just about 500 million years old.
Every single object and shiny dot in the above picture is a distinct galaxy, probably containing billions of stars! Some of these galaxies look very different from the familiar elliptical and spiral shapes. This is because we are looking at galaxies of the early Universe. Just like an assortment of fossils, the above picture, known as The Hubble Deep Field (HDF), contains information about the Universe at many different stages in time. It can help us understand the evolution of galaxies over time. The tiny patch of the sky pictured above is considered representative of the typical distribution of galaxies in space. The area of the entire observable sky is millions of times greater than this tiny patch. You might also want to see these couple of space videos for some interesting thoughts on the Hubble Deep Fields.
In September 2003, astronomers again zoomed in the Hubble Space Telescope in a different direction (toward the Fornax constellation) to study a tiny patch of the sky that looks dark and empty from the Earth. Once again, a tiny dark patch of the sky revealed about 10,000 galaxies dating back to the early Universe. Astronomers called it The Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF). It is shown in the picture above. It reveals the first galaxies that emerged shortly after the Big Bang, during a period called the dark ages of the Universe. Every single point of light visible in the above picture is a distinct galaxy. Each galaxy might contain billions of stars. The patch studied is so small that it would take 50 Ultra Deep Fields to cover the entire Moon, and millions of Ultra Deep Fields to cover the entire observable sky!
Some of the galaxies in the above picture look like toothpicks, some look like bracelet links, while others look like they are interacting. These are very odd shapes when compared to the familiar spiral and elliptical galaxies that we are used to seeing. The Universe might have been chaotic when these galaxies were formed. It might have been a period when order and structure were just beginning to emerge. The Hubble Ultra Deep Field can help us understand the birth and evolution of galaxies. When we look at it, we are looking back billions of years in time!
In September 2012, NASA released a picture of The Hubble eXtreme Deep Field (XDF) shown above. It is an improvement over the previous Hubble Ultra Deep Field. It shows about 5,500 extremely distant galaxies that formed in the early Universe. These galaxies are billions of light-years away from the Earth (see what is the radius of the observable Universe). As of 2013, the Hubble eXtreme Deep Field is the deepest image of the Universe ever taken. It reveals the faintest and the most distant galaxies ever seen by humans. The oldest galaxy found in the XDF existed just 450 million years after the birth of the Universe in the Big Bang.
The Hickson Compact Group 87 (HCG 87) is a group of galaxies located about 400 million light-years away from the Earth in the direction of the Capricornus (Capricorn) constellation. It consists of a spiral galaxy (top left), an elliptical galaxy (lower right), and a large edge-on spiral galaxy (lower left). The fourth galaxy, which is a small spiral galaxy visible near the center of the above picture, might be a background galaxy located far away. The bright stars visible in the picture are foreground stars from our own Milky Way Galaxy. The galaxies are gravitationally interacting in the group, and orbiting around a common center. They might take 100-million years (or even more) to complete one orbit.
The Spindle Galaxy (NGC 5866 or Messier 102) is a lenticular galaxy located about 44 million light-years away from the Earth in the direction of the Draco constellation. Its diameter is about 60,000 light-years. It is tilted edge-on toward us, as shown in the above picture of the galaxy. A subtle, reddish bulge surrounds its bright nucleus, and a blue disk of stars runs parallel to its dust lane.
NGC 1097 (Caldwell 67) is a barred spiral-galaxy located about 50 million light-years away from the Earth in the direction of the Fornax (Furnace) constellation. It is an active Seyfert Galaxy. A supermassive black hole, 100 million times as massive as our Sun is thought to be present in its core. When material falls into the black hole, the surrounding area emits powerful radiation. Due to inflow of material toward the central bar of the galaxy, the area surrounding the black hole is bursting with new star formation. It looks like a ring-shaped structure that has a diameter of about 5,000 light-years. The diameter of the entire galaxy is tens of thousands of light-years. It experienced three supernovae blasts between 1992 and 2003. It has two satellite-galaxies, out of which only one is visible in this close-up shot.
The above picture shows the Tadpole Galaxy (Arp 188), which is a barred spiral-galaxy located about 420 million light-years away from the Earth in the direction of the Draco (Dragon) constellation. The most peculiar feature of this galaxy is its 'tail,' which makes it look like a tadpole or a yo-yo. The length of this tail is about 280,000 light-years, which is more than two-and-a-half times the diameter of the Milky Way Galaxy. Astronomers think that a more compact intruder galaxy crossed in front of the Tadpole Galaxy, and the gravity of the former stretched a spiral arm of the latter to form the tail-like structure.
Mayall's Object is a pair of colliding galaxies located about 450 million light-years away from the Earth in the direction of the Ursa Major (Great Bear) constellation. It is named after Nicholas Ulrich Mayall, an American astronomer who discovered it in 1940. It is also called Arp 148 or VV 032. As shown in the above picture, the right galaxy has a ring-like shape, and the left galaxy looks like its tail. A previous collision between the two galaxies is thought to have created this peculiar shape. Interacting galaxies can collide several times before they merge together to form a single galaxy.
The above picture shows a rare and spectacular case of a triple-merger of galaxies that form a 'Tinker Bell' shaped structure. These interacting galaxies are called "ESO 593-8" or "ESO 593-IG 008." Astronomers also use names such as "The Bird," "The Tinker Bell Triplet," or "The Cosmic Tinker Bell" to refer to this system of interacting galaxies. They are located about 650 million light-years away from the Earth in the direction of the Sagittarius constellation. They consist of two spiral galaxies and a third irregular galaxy.
The 'wings' of this cosmic 'Tinker Bell' are about 100,000 light-years long, which is almost the length of the Milky Way Galaxy. New stars are being formed in the 'head,' at a rate of nearly 200 solar masses per year. Currently the 'head' and the 'body' of the 'Tinker Bell' appear to be moving apart at speeds exceeding 250 miles (400 kilometers) per second. However, the mutual gravity of the interacting galaxies might pull them back together and they might merge to form a single galaxy. The above picture released by ESO has been color-coded. For an optical picture of the Tinker Bell or 'The Bird,' see the following picture.
The above system of interacting galaxies (called ESO 593-8 or ESO 593-IG 008) looks like a bird in flight! Earlier astronomers thought that they were just two interacting galaxies, but recently a third interacting galaxy was found in the system. These triple interacting galaxies are located about 650 million light-years away from the Earth in the direction of the Sagittarius constellation. They are popularly known as "The Cosmic Tinker Bell" (see the previous color-coded picture), "The Tinker Bell Triplet," or simply "The Bird."
See also: Amazing Pictures of the Universe