The Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) aboard the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) delivered unprecedented science in 2012 including the discovery of the oldest galaxy to date.
Installed by shuttle astronauts during the 2008 Servicing Mission (SM4), the WFC3 is Hubble’s most technologically advanced visible spectrum instrument. In addition to WFC3, the SM4 included installation of the Ball-built Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS), an instrument 30 times more sensitive in the far-ultraviolet than earlier Hubble ultraviolet spectrographs.
According to scientists, the most recent discovery made by Hubble showed that the galaxy, known as UDFj-39546284, likely existed when the universe was just 380 million years old. The other six distant galaxies all formed within 600 million years of the Big Bang, which created our universe about 13.7 billion years ago. UDFj-39546284 was detected previously, and researchers had thought it formed just 500 million years or so after the Big Bang. The WFC3 infrared observations push its probable formation time back even further. Also in 2012:
* Hubble captured the farthest-ever view into the universe, a photo that reveals thousands of galaxies billions of light-years away. Called eXtreme Deep Field, or XDF, the image combines 10 years of Hubble telescope views of one patch of sky. Only the accumulated light gathered over so many observation sessions can reveal such distant objects. The photo is a sequel to the original “Hubble Ultra Deep Field,” an image Hubble captured in 2003 and 2004 that collected light over many hours to reveal thousands of distant galaxies in what was the deepest view of the universe to that date. The XDF goes even farther, peering back 13.2 billion years into the universe.
* Hubble detected a tiny new moon discovered orbiting Pluto, bringing the number of known Pluto satellites to five. Researchers expressed surprise that despite its small size, Pluto nonetheless has a very complex collection of satellites. The new discovery provides additional clues for unraveling how the Pluto system formed and evolved.