After several image processing steps, the glow from what may be the oldest large objects in the universe stands out from "light pollution" pouring out from other objects of the unverse. Each animation frame depicts telescope data from the same infrared wavelength and covers the same stretch of sky 60-million light years by 100-million light years across, with progressive changes reflecting additional steps in the analysis. The first frame shows the original data collected by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope at a wavelength of 3.6 microns (millionths of a meter), while the second frame shows the data after the researchers masked out the most apparent stars, galaxies and other sources. The next several frames reflect the researchers' painstaking removal of the remaining faint, ordinary galaxies to create a refined data set, from which the team created a progressively smoother image--through processing vaguely akin to removing the snow from a poor television image--to display the cosmic background glow not attributed to the stars and galaxies. According to the researchers, the remaining light-orange patches are likely the glow produced by the first luminous objects from the first billion years of the Universe's evolution.
Credit: A. Kashlinsky et al.; Nicolle Rager Fuller, National Science Foundation; NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSFC