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Stare into the soul of the universe with this view of distant galaxies

All that glitters is not gold. It's galaxies, as this new image from the MeerKAT telescope shows.

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Bright radio galaxies with supermassive black holes shine among fainter galaxies that are like our Milky Way in this image from the MeerKAT telescope.

SARAO; NRAO/AUI/NSF

The South African Radio Astronomy Observatory's MeerKAT telescope is our ticket to seeing deep into the history of the universe. The telescope has delivered a new radio image that offers a previously unseen look at distant galaxies that remind us of our home, the Milky Way.

This composite image shows an array of MeerKAT dishes in South Africa combined with the radio image of distant galaxies. 

SARAO; NRAO/AUI/NSF

The image resembles a pool of glitter against a black background, but each point of light represents a galaxy. 

The brightest are galaxies with supermassive black holes. "But what makes this image special are the numerous faint dots filling the sky. These are distant galaxies like our own that have never been observed in radio light before," said SARAO in a statement Tuesday. 

There are tens of thousands of galaxies crammed into this image. The team of astronomers who worked on this project are looking into an era of the universe known as "cosmic noon" that happened between 8 billion and 11 billion years ago. This was an active time for star formation, but it's been hard to see through all the cosmic noise to spot the prolific star-making galaxies that are similar to our own.

"Because radio waves travel at the speed of light, this image is a time machine that samples star formation in these distant galaxies over billions of years," said National Radio Astronomy Observatory astronomer James Condon. He's co-author of a paper on the MeerKAT observations that was accepted to The Astrophysical Journal.

MeerKAT's 64 dishes spent 130 hours staring at this one slice of the sky. The new data is helping scientists understand more about the history of star formation. 

MeerKAT has only been up and running since 2016, so this view of the deep universe is just a start on what astronomers might find as they gaze out into the cosmic distance. 

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