NASA’s venerable space telescope sees double in a stunning new image of a distant galaxy.
A new image from the Hubble Space Telescope shows the galaxy SGAS J143845+145407, located in the northern constellation of Bootes, one of the largest constellations in the sky. The mirror image of the galaxy at the center of this new image is the result of strong gravitational lensing, an astronomical phenomenon that can distort, enlarge or even duplicate the appearance of distant galaxies.
“Gravity lensing occurs when a massive celestial body, such as a cluster of galaxies, causes space-time to curve enough that the path of light around it is visibly curved, as if by a lens,” the European Space Agency said in a statement. (ESA). “Accordingly, the body that causes the curvature of light is called a gravitational lens, and the distorted background object is called a “lens”.
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At the center of the new Hubble image, bright light from SGAS J143845+145407 appears as an arc or ring around an object between a distant galaxy and the space telescope. The image also captures several other galaxies and celestial objects scattered across space.
Hubble is equipped with sensitive scientific instruments that allow it to pick up faint and distant gravitational lenses that ground-based telescopes cannot detect due to blurring caused by Earth’s atmosphere.
Gravitational lensing also allows astronomers to observe objects that would otherwise be too far away or too faint to be seen. The distortion caused by an object in the foreground acts like a natural magnifying glass, magnifying more distant celestial objects. According to the ESA statement, Hubble is able to pick up light from these more distant objects to determine their shape and internal structure.
A recent image of the galaxy SGAS J143845+145407 was taken as part of a larger Hubble initiative to study galaxies in the early universe using gravitational lensing to study galaxies at close range.
“The lens reveals details of distant galaxies that would otherwise be inaccessible, and this allows astronomers to determine star formation in early galaxies,” the ESA said in a statement. “This, in turn, gives scientists a better idea of how the overall evolution of galaxies unfolded.”
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