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From The Cold Depths Of Space, A Smile Emerges

An image taken with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope of the galaxy cluster SDSS J1038+4849 shows that it seems to be smiling. The space agency says it's the result of a symmetrical alignment of the galaxy cluster and the telescope — along with a powerful gravity field that can bend light.

Space, you may have heard, can be a cold and lonely place. But the NASA/ESA Hubble telescope has identified a particularly well-adjusted corner of space — or at least that's what a recent image suggests, with the help of an effect called an Einstein Ring.

In the Hubble image of galaxy cluster SDSS J1038+4849, two bright galaxies resemble eyes, NASA says, "and the misleading smile lines are actually arcs caused by an effect known as strong gravitational lensing."

The striking photo drew our attention to a recent posting by the space agency, in which we learned:

"Galaxy clusters are the most massive structures in the Universe and exert such a powerful gravitational pull that they warp the spacetime around them and act as cosmic lenses which can magnify, distort and bend the light behind them. This phenomenon, crucial to many of Hubble's discoveries, can be explained by Einstein's theory of general relativity.

"In this special case of gravitational lensing, a ring — known as an Einstein Ring — is produced from this bending of light, a consequence of the exact and symmetrical alignment of the source, lens and observer and resulting in the ring-like structure we see here."

The European Space Agency says the image was flagged by Judy Schmidt (aka Geckzilla) as part of the Hubble's Hidden Treasures image-processing competition.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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