Experts Estimate Galaxy Count

ByABC News
January 10, 2001, 9:32 AM

A U S T I N,   Texas,   Jan. 7 -- Looking back in time at a tiny section of sky, the Hubble Space Telescope found there may be 125 billion galaxies in the universe, about 45 billion more than the last best estimate, astronomers reported today.

The new number was based on observations by the orbiting telescopes Deep Field camera last October, when it looked at a speck-sized area of the southern sky, taking what amounts to a visual core sample of the heavens.

The Hubble telescope took a similar view of the northern sky in 1995, and then estimated that there might be 80 billion galaxies in existence.

Harry Ferguson of the Space Telescope Science Institute, which studies Hubble findings, said the southern observations looked a bit further into the past than the northern ones, and managed to detect dimmer objects in space, which accounts for the higher galactic count.

12 Billion Light Years Away

The Deep Field-South project looked 12 billion light years away in distance, back in time to a period perhaps one billion years after the theoretical big bang that astronomers believe created the universe.

Hubbles glimpse of the southern sky took in an area that would appear to be about the size of a grain of sand held at arms length, Ferguson told reporters at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Austin.

But in that small segment of the sky, the telescope spied 620 galaxies. Scientists extrapolated from that sample to theorize that there might be 125 billion galaxies over the whole sky.

Anybody could have predicted it, Ferguson said, stressing that by looking further back in time, it was expected that more galaxies would turn up.

Weird-Shaped Galaxies

Ferguson and other astronomers at a news conference acknowledged that some of the newly detected galaxies were oddly shaped, unlike the symmetrical Milky Way that contains Earth and other more familiar galaxies that are shaped like spirals and ellipses.