Just counting the number of galaxies in a patch of sky provides a way to test astronomers’ theories of galaxy formation and evolution. However, such a simple task becomes increasingly hard as astronomers attempt to count the more distant and fainter galaxies. It is further complicated by the fact that the brightest and easiest galaxies to observe — the most massive galaxies in the Universe — are rarer the further astronomers peer into the Universe’s past, whilst the more numerous less bright galaxies are even more difficult to find.
A team of astronomers, led by Karina Caputi of the Kapteyn Astronomical Institute at the University of Groningen, has now unearthed many distant galaxies that had escaped earlier scrutiny. They used images from the UltraVISTA survey, one of six projects using VISTA to survey the sky at near-infrared wavelengths, and made a census of faint galaxies when the age of the Universe was between just 0.75 and 2.1 billion years old.