A photograph of the Abell 370 galaxy cluster is 5 billion light-years from Earth. The Hubble Space Telescope used the gravitational lens method to see distant galaxies that would otherwise not be perceived by its delicate lenses. The picture is part of the new project BUFFALO.

( Hubble Space Telescope )

The Hubble Space Telescope has taken a picture of some of the earliest and most distant galaxies in the universe.

As part of the Beyond Ultra-Deep Frontier Fields and Legacy Observations (BUFFALO) mission, Hubble pointed his lenses at a huge cluster of galaxies called the Abell 370, located 5 billion light-years from Earth. The photograph also showed numerous other galaxies far beyond Abell 370.

What Hubble has seen

Hubble used the galaxy clusters as "natural telescopes" that amplified the distant galaxies and supernovae. Since these galaxies are so far away and their lights were so dim, it was difficult to photograph and observe them without amplification.

The cosmological trick called gravitational lensing allowed Hubble to see beyond the universe. He distributes matter, in this case a cluster of galaxies, between the observer and a distant source, and bends and manipulates the light coming from distant background galaxies that otherwise could not be detected even with the telescope's delicate vision.

The feature called "the dragon" is the best demonstration of the gravitational lens. Just below the center of the cluster is an extended feature consisting of multiple duplicate images of a spiral galaxy that forms an arc.

This is not the first time that Hubble uses gravitational lenses to look at distant objects in the universe. Back in 2012, the telescope also photographed a distant galaxy, 10 billion light-years from Earth, with the cosmic zoom lens created by a cluster of nearby galaxies 5 billion light-years away.

Look back a long way

The primary mission of BUFFALO is to look far back into the creation of the universe as it is currently possible. The program hopes to further investigate and identify galaxies in their earliest formation in the first 800 million years after the Big Bang.

BUFFALO is a successor to Frontier Fields, a similar project that started in 2013 and ended in 2017. BUFFALO will expand the views of the six regions and their surroundings previously photographed by its predecessor.

"Driven by the Frontier Fields observations, BUFFALO will be able to detect the farthest galaxies about ten times more efficiently than its predecessor program," said the team behind BUFFALO. "The BUFFALO study will also use other space telescopes that have already observed the regions around the clusters."

The data will hopefully help scientists learn more about the evolution of the earliest galaxies in the universe.

The project is led by European astronomers at the Niels Bohr Institute in Denmark and Durham University in the United Kingdom.

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