It isn't too typically that astronomers are confused when making a space-related discovery, but the above picture from& NASA's Hubble telescope managed to do precisely that. Of all the instruments at our disposal for exploring outer area, Hubble has repeatedly confirmed to be probably the greatest. The 31-year-old telescope has made numerous discoveries through the years, whether it's answering questions on our personal Solar System or investigating galaxies tens of millions of light-years away.
In 2021 alone,& Hubble has been up to lots. It is captured a large 'eye' in the midst of& a constellation, discovered new details about Jupiter's Great Pink Spot, and even identified a 'ghost' galaxy completely devoid of dark matter. All of this has occurred regardless of a scare earlier this yr — one which triggered Hubble to go offline for a month because of a nasty pc glitch.
NASA& just shared one among Hubble's newest discoveries, and it might be one of the head-scratching of the whole yr. Wanting at the photograph above, all appears pretty normal at first.& The picture exhibits a big cluster of galaxies deep in area, with Hubble focusing on two of them. The primary one, labeled 'single image,' is a run-of-the-mill galaxy with a shiny middle and quite a few stars surrounding it. Where things get fascinating is with the galaxy labeled 'reflection.' Not solely does it appear to be a galaxy mirroring itself, however it's additionally a replica of the 'single image' galaxy above it. In other words, there are three sightings of the identical galaxy for no apparent cause. After first recognizing the 'double' galaxy in 2013, astronomer Timothy Hamilton admitted he and his workforce& "have been really stumped."
If it sounds unattainable for there to be three situations of the very same galaxy, that is because it is. What's really occurring here is one thing referred to as 'gravitational lensing'& — a visible trick that happens when a considerable amount of matter distorts mild from different galaxies. Gravitational lensing is a fairly well-known factor as we speak, but in 2013 when Hamilton found these perplexing galaxies, that wasn't the case.
On this specific state of affairs,& NASA explains the lensing as follows:& "A precise alignment between a background galaxy and a foreground galaxy cluster produces twin magnified copies of the identical picture of the distant galaxy. This uncommon phenomenon happens as a result of the background galaxy straddles a ripple within the material of area."& One other approach to think about it's like wavy reflections present in a swimming pool. When the afternoon solar is& shining vibrant on an outside pool, the light from the solar appears on the underside of it with swirling, wavy reflections. As Richard Griffiths from the University of Hawaii explains,& "The ripples on the floor act as partial lenses and focus sunlight into brilliant squiggly patterns on the underside."
This is primarily what's occurring in the picture on the prime of this text, albeit on a much larger scale. A ripple in area is taking mild from the only image galaxy, magnifying and distorting it, and that is what's seen with the reflection galaxy. That is an ideal oversimplification of all of the science and analysis that went into attending to& this answer, but that's finally how the photograph is defined. If anything, it's an excellent reminder of how a lot we nonetheless should study area. In just& eight years,& astronomers went from not& understanding this photograph to having a logical& rationalization& for it. In the subsequent& eight, 16, or 32 years, who is aware of what different mysteries we'll also have solutions to.