Thousands of galaxies of all ages, shapes, and colors can be seen in a stunning new image from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. Some of the oldest galaxies visible appear as light from nearly 12 billion years ago, almost as old as the universe, but NASA says the most exciting part of the image is the use of ultraviolet light, which reveals the "missing link" of galaxies 5 billion to 10 billion years old—the chunk of time when most of the universe's stars came to be. A Caltech astronomer likens the previous lack of information from ultraviolet light to studying "families by first studying infants, and then studying grown-ups after they've gone to college, but completely missing everything in between and not knowing about school. ... The addition of the ultraviolet fills in this missing range." The light shows up in the photo as bright blue.
The image, 11 years in the making, was taken over 841 orbits of the telescope. Many of the approximately 10,000 galaxies it shows "are distorted, victims of collisions with other galaxies, their mutual gravity pulling them into weird shapes like taffy quadrillions of kilometers across," writes Phil Plait at Slate. But as amazing as Hubble's latest image is, the infrared-friendly James Webb telescope is expected to send back even greater deep-space shots after its launch in 2018, notes Chris Taylor at Mashable. "Use this one as your desktop for now, but be prepared to blow your mind with a lot better shots than this in a few years' time," he writes. (Another recent Hubble discovery: Jupiter's red spot is shrinking quickly.)