What’s the most important photograph ever taken? Well the answer is subjective and will vary wildly depending on who you ask but one image in particular is generally regarded by the world of science to be of such awesome significance that it’s often referred to as the most important ever taken. That image is the Hubble Deep Field.
Before delving into why it’s considered so significant we should first look at how it was captured. The Hubble Space Telescope was launched on April 24th 1990 at a cost of $2.5 billion. It orbits the Earth at an altitude of 559km and travels a blistering fast 7.5km/s. It’s mission was to probe deep into space and to photograph what it can see using it’s 2.4m diameter, 57.6m focal length telescope to focus distant light onto series of detectors which can see in the infrared, visable and ultraviolet spectrums.
Hubble has given us some of the most spectacular images of the cosmos ever recorded. Distant nebula, supernova remnants, galaxies, planets… Breathtaking images which show the universe’s wonders up close:
Then they decided to see what would happen if they stared at nothing…
And so for 10 days between December 18 and December 28, 1995 Hubble peered into a seemingly empty patch of sky measuring just 2.5 arcminutes. Thich equates to around one 24 millionth of the whole sky – equivalent to looking at a tennis ball from 100 meters away. The target area was found in the constellation Ursa Major and was picked because it was free of any dust or distracting light sources. The image was made up of 342 individual exposures which were then combined to give the final image – the image know known as Hubble Deep Field.
Here in a seemingly unremarkable patch of black sky astronomers had captured a photograph containing around 3000 bright objects. These weren’t just stars though – they were galaxies, each one made up for hundreds of billions of stars, each star likely to have a system of planets and possibly life. It also peered back in time nearly 12 billion years as it had taken that long for the light from these distant galaxies to reach Hubble. This one image of an unremarkable patch of sky and some distant corner of space showed us for the first time the true scale of the observable universe and how much remains to be discovered. This is why it’s considered by many to be the most important photograph ever taken – It’s humbling and inspiring, frightening and overwhelming, so simple and yet so incomprehensible – it’s all these things and so much more. There’s no leading lines, no rule of thirds, no creamy bokeh but nevertheless you can’t dent the power of this snapshot of the distant universe.
For more information on Hubble and to see some gorgeous photographs from the depths of space visit NASA’s Hubble page here.