Hubble boosts galaxy count by factor of 10

Hubble galaxy survey
A deep-field image from the Great Observatories Origins Deep Survey, or GOODS, shows a scattering of distant galaxies. (Credit: NASA / ESA / GOODS Team / M. Giavialisco / UMass-Amherst)

It looks as if astronomers have been way, way off on their galaxy counts: A new analysis of data from the Hubble Space Telescope suggests that the observable universe holds at least 2 trillion galaxies, which is 10 times the previous estimate.

How could scientists be so far off? The key is that the early universe appears to have had lots of relatively small, faint galaxies. As they merged to form larger galaxies, the population density dwindled.

It took Hubble’s deep-field surveys to register the smaller galaxies that existed far back in time, and it took painstaking analysis to count up a sampling of those galaxies.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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