It’s a big, big universe out there and the Hubble Space Telescope bores a hole over halfway out into it with this image, showing a gathering of galaxies near and far. It’s a core sample of the cosmos, acquired in visible and infrared light over a total exposure time of 14 hours.
Most of the galaxies in this cluster are about 5 billion light-years away. But some are closer and even farther out, and so even though they might look like they’re all neighbors, they’re really separated by hundreds of millions and even billions of years’ worth of light travel and galactic evolution.
Some of the more oddly-shaped galaxies surrounding the center of the image are actually bending the light coming from more distant objects along our line of sight. This effect, called gravitational lensing, can not just distort but also amplify light, helping astronomers see even farther out into the universe.
In fact there’s an entire campaign dedicated to using gravitational lensing to boost Hubble’s vision and continue pushing the limits of the 25-year-old telescope; learn more about Frontier Fields here.
The amazing image above was spotted by Adam Kill in the 2012 Hubble’s Hidden Treasures competition.