Einstein Was Right
It’s all an illusion.
ESA/Hubble & NASA, T. Treu
Space has a knack for playing tricks on the eyes.
Take this image for example — does the bright cluster in the center represent one galaxy, two, or perhaps a half dozen?
ESA/Hubble & NASA, T. Treu; markup by Inverse
If you guessed two galaxies, you’re right. Those are the dots in the center of the ring.
But what are the other four bright spots of light circling around them?
The ring’s four bright specks are nothing but reflected light.
They’re visible thanks to a phenomenon called gravitational lensing.
The phenomenon was first predicted by physicist Albert Einstein over a century ago.
ESA/Hubble & NASA, S. Jha
Gravitational lensing happens when enormous, distant space objects cause spacetime to curve so that the light around them appears physically bent from our position on Earth.
Einstein Rings are perhaps the clearest way to observe this phenomenon.
They only occur when two objects are perfectly aligned — one behind the other, from our vantage point.
And there’s another piece to this visual trick: a massive quasar is nested in the very center of the ring, illuminating the entire cluster.
They are the product of gas and dust falling into supermassive black holes, emitting electromagnetic radiation.
There’s a lot more to those distant specks of light than what first meets the eye.
And you can thank Einstein for the explanation.
Read more stories about space here.