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Locate and image the Hubble Deep Field

This is probably a challenge for the more serious amateur astronomers, but anyone can give it a go. If you get results you'll have captured some of the oldest objects in the Universe.

What is the Hubble Deep Field?

The Hubble Deep Field, shown here, is a patch of sky in the constellation of Ursa Major the Great Bear.

It was originally chosen because it was an empty and apparently blank patch of sky - so no bright features to help you locate it!

However, the Plough or Saucepan asterism is close by, and this is the key to locating the Hubble Deep Field for photography.

How can I find it in the night sky?

Start by locating the seven stars that form the Plough shape (figure 1). Locate the star that marks the point where the plough blade fixes to the handle (or if you prefer, where the Saucepan’s pan fixes to the handle). This star is called Delta Ursae Majoris, or Megrez.

Next, locate the first star in the handle after Megrez. This is Epsilon Ursae Majoris, or Alioth. All seven stars that make up the pattern are easy to see with the naked eye, so Megrez and Alioth shouldn’t be hard to identify.

Imagine the line from Alioth to Megrez as the base of an equilateral triangle pointing up with respect to the Plough (figure 2). This triangle points to a pair of faint stars which are right on the edge of naked eye visibility from a dark sky site. Binoculars will show them easily though.

For ease of description we've called these stars A and B (figure 3). Star A is formally known as HIP62402 or another designation for it is TYC4165-584-1. Star B is known as 76 Ursae Majoris, HIP61936 or TYC4165-534-1. If you have a planetarium program, you should be able to locate these stars using one or more of the given labels.

Once you’ve identified them, draw a line from A-B and keep it going for the same distance again (figure 4). Then turn by 90 degrees so you’re heading down towards the Plough and move for two-thirds the A-B distance again.

You’re now looking directly at the Hubble Deep Field! The actual co-ordinates of the field are RA 12h 36m 49.4s, Dec. 62° 12’ 58”.

Why does it appear empty?

Can’t see anything? Well that was the point of choosing this apparently barren patch of sky. The Hubble Deep Field is approximately square in shape with part of one corner missing.

The square measures 2.5 arcminutes along each side which is equivalent to the size of a 65mm tennis ball at a distance of 100 metres. Although that may sound small, in astronomical imaging terms it’s actually quite a manageable size being roughly one-twelfth the apparent diameter of the Moon.

Ready for a challenge?

If you’d like to have a go at our challenge, we simply want you to image the area of sky that covers the Hubble Deep Field to see whether you can detect any of the objects that are located in it.

Depending on your set-up, an exposure of several minutes duration may detect some of the brighter objects, but remember that Hubble’s final result represents many hours of exposure. Stacking images taken over a number of nights will produce better results but be careful of poor atmospheric conditions which will tend to blur any tiny details present.

If you have access to a remote imaging setup which can see the relevant piece of sky, why not give that a go too? If you’re in science education, resources such as the Faulkes Telescope Project can provide free access to large telescopes.

Good luck - if you're successful please share your images in our photo group.

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Figure 4