A stunning new photo from the Hubble Space Telescope shows a near-perfect Einstein ring, an effect caused by gravitational lenses. This is one of the most complete Einstein rings ever seen.
Gravitational lenses occur when a massive object such as a galaxy is aligned directly between Earth and an even more distant massive object. Einstein predicted that gravity could bend light, and this picture is a wonderful example of how gravity on foreground objects deflects light from background objects, creating a ring of light.
In this case, it’s not just a foreground galaxy and a background galaxy, but the gravity of two massive galaxies that bend the light of a distant quasar and bundle the otherwise divergent light into a visible ring.
So why does this picture show multiple points of light?
Video of this Einstein ring. Credit: ESA / Hubble & NASA, T. Treu, Acknowledgments: J. Schmidt
Music: Stellardrone – Stardome
As you can see, six glowing points of light are grouped in the center of this picture, four of which form a circle around a central pair. Hubble data also suggests that there is a seventh spot of light in the center, which is a rare fifth image of the distant quasar. This rare phenomenon is caused by the presence of two galaxies in the foreground that act as a lens.
The Hubble team says the central pair of galaxies in this picture are really two separate galaxies. The four bright spots that orbit it (and the fainter one in the center which is really hard to see) are actually five separate images of the single distant quasar, called the 2M1310-1714.
The two foreground galaxies have such enormous mass that the spatial structure warps in such a way that the light that travels through this space from a distant object is bent and enlarged in such a way that the image shows several enlarged images of the distance – source away.
Our friend and colleague Dr. Pamela Gay also loved this picture:
I saw this new Hubble image and said, “Awwwww, aren’t you the cutest little Einsting ring?”
Gravity apparently fell in love with this pair of galaxies and put a ring around them using the repeated light of a distant quasar. pic.twitter.com/wxY8AbIF61
– Dr. Pamela L Gay #BlackLivesMatter (@starstryder) August 27, 2021
“This spectacular image was captured by Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3), which was installed on Hubble in 2009 during Hubble Servicing Mission 4, Hubble’s final service mission. The WFC3 was supposed to be up and running until 2014, but 12 years after it was installed, it continues to provide both high quality data and fantastic images like this, ”says the Hubble team.
ESA Hubble description of this image
Dark Energy Survey finds hundreds of new gravitational lenses
Universe Today article with more Einstein rings