Gravitational Telescope Creates Space Invader Mirage


Credit: NASA & ESA. Acknowledgement: N. Rose

Credit: NASA & ESA. Acknowledgement: N. Rose

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope is one of the most powerful available to astronomers, but sometimes it too needs a helping hand. This comes in the form of Einstein’s general theory of relativity, which makes galaxy clusters act as natural lenses, amplifying the light coming from very distant galaxies.

Abell 68, pictured here in infrared light, is one of these galaxy clusters, and it greatly boosts the power of Hubble, extending the telescope’s ability to observe distant and faint objects.

The effect of this huge concentration of matter is to deform the fabric of spacetime, which in turn distorts the path that light takes when it travels through the cluster. For galaxies that are even further away than the cluster — which is already at the impressive distance of two billion light-years — and which are aligned just right, the effect is to turn galaxies that might otherwise be invisible into ones that can be observed with relative ease.

Although the resulting images projected to us of these distant galaxies are typically heavily deformed, this process, called gravitational lensing, is a hugely valuable tool in cosmology, the branch of astronomy which deals with the origins and evolution of the Universe.

Full Story: http://www.spacetelescope.org/news/heic1304/
Also: http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/archive/releases/2013/09/image/a/

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