Joint European space research reaches the stars

January 22, 2003

Brussels, 21 Jan 2003

Three teams of European astronomers have released the deepest wide-field colour image ever of the southern sky that penetrates far into the distant cosmos and is providing scientists around the world with useful data to shed light on the dark early history of the universe.

Chandra Deep Field South (CDF-S) (MPG/ESO 2.2-m + WFI)
ESO PR Photo 02a/03 (10 January 2003)

Working under the umbrella of the European Southern Observatory (ESO), a 10-member intergovernmental body, the European astronomers were able to produce an image that covers Chandra Deep Field South (CDFS), a chunk of the night sky larger than a full moon. The product of more than three years' work, the inter-galactic snapshot contains over 100 000 galaxies, several thousand stars and hundreds of 'quasars' (quasi-stellar radio sources believed to be powered by super-massive black holes). The composite image was obtained from nearly 50 hours of exposure with a state-of-the-art wide field imager camera at the ESO's La Silla observatory in Chile.

Global effort for a universal insight

Three European teams undertook the painstaking task of collecting and compiling the data to form the image, which lasted from 1999-2002. Combo-17, a team of scientists led by the Max-Planck-Institut für Astronomie; the ESO's own in-house imaging team, the EIS; and the European arm of GOODS (the Great Observatories Origins Deep Survey). The exciting potential of the area of sky under study, which is relatively "empty" by astronomical standards, has sparked massive interest in the scientific community around the world and astronomers hope that this stretch of uncluttered space will open up a window on the early evolution of the universe. Nevertheless, it is a huge undertaking and scientists are coordinating their efforts on a global scale to make the best use of their finite resources. This latest image, which is 200 times larger than that obtained by the Hubble programme, provides a more representative view of the universe that will aid researchers. Under an international data sharing agreement, astronomers are already using the data from the image to help them peer back billions of years into the universe's past.


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