Einstein Was Right

Look: Hubble captures rare Einstein Ring phenomenon

It’s all an illusion.

ESA/Hubble & NASA, T. Treu

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?

ESA/Hubble & NASA, T. Treu

The ring’s four bright specks are nothing but reflected light.

They’re visible thanks to a phenomenon called gravitational lensing.

This manifestation of gravitational lensing is known as an Einstein Ring.

The phenomenon was first predicted by physicist Albert Einstein over a century ago.

Heritage Images/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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.

ESA/Hubble & NASA, S. Jha

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.

This is the full image of the most recent ring that Hubble imaged. It was released on August 9, 2021.

ESA/Hubble & NASA, T. Treu


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.

Quasars are extremely bright objects that sit in the center of some galaxies.

They are the product of gas and dust falling into supermassive black holes, emitting electromagnetic radiation.

ESA via Giphy

ESA/Hubble & NASA, T. Treu

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.