When the Universe Smiles, Smile Back

Image submitted to an image processing competition called ‘Hubble’s Hidden Treasures’ are expected to be amazing, but this is the only one I’ve seen that will make you happier.

This cosmic ‘smile’ is in the constellation Ursa Major, and is made up of the light from four galaxies, each with Billions of their own stars.  This is the biggest happy face ever found! The two eyes are very distant galaxies known as SDSSCGB 8842.3 and SDSSCGB 8842.4.

Image credit: NASA / ESA / Judy Schmidt, geckzilla.org

So why do we see this ring structure? You might think that the Galaxy is stretched by gravity, but its something much more complex and beautiful.  This is a classic case of gravitational lensing, in what we call an ‘Einstein Ring’ (You can guess who they are named after).

Gravitational lensing occurs when a distant galaxy has a large mass in front of it, generally a galaxy or cluster of galaxies since a lot of mass is required.  The bending of space-time by the mass creates a curved path that the light from the distant galaxy travels along, allowing the light to reach Earth when normally we would never be able to see the distant galaxy.

An Einstein ring is the case where the distant Galaxy, the large mass, and the Earth line up perfectly, giving a nearly perfect ring.

Credit: http://www.cfhtlens.org/public/what-gravitational-lensing

Astronomers have been able to use knowledge of gravitational lensing to piece together images of the distant galaxies.  Pretty cool.

It’s Friday the 13th right? Might as well smile and be happy, instead of superstitious.

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