NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope recently captured a new image of distant galaxy cluster SDSS J0146-0929. The image shows a massive blanket of hundreds of galaxies caught in each other’s gravitational pulls. The interesting thing about the picture is the Einstein Ring.
Notably, there’s so much mass in the region that the galaxy cluster is distorting light from objects behind it and creating odd, looping curves that almost encircle the center of the cluster. This phenomenon is called an Einstein ring. The Einstein ring is named after Albert Einstein who suggested that a massive object such as a galaxy cluster could warp space and time. The phenomenon is rooted in Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. This process is known today as a gravitational lens that appears when galaxies line up with a different massive object.
“In this image, the light from a background galaxy is diverted and distorted around the massive intervening cluster and forced to travel along many different light paths toward Earth, making it seem as though the galaxy is in several places at once,” the space agency said in a statement.
Gravitational lensing might sound a bit complicated, but, it’s quite simple to explain. In simple words, when light passes through a dense object with a massive gravitational pull, that object is able to divert and distort the path of light. As the light is forced to take a path other than a straight line, it circles around the galaxy as it gets influenced by massive gravitational forces, creating the Einstein ring. In this case, the galaxy cluster SDSS J0146-0929 distorted the light coming from distant objects to produce an Einstein ring.
Einstein rings and gravitational lenses help magnify far away objects that otherwise would be too distant and dim to see in telescopes, letting scientists and astronomers get more up-close views of stars and galaxies, especially the more distant ones.