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Gravity Lets the Universe Make Smiley Faces at Us

Gravity Lets the Universe Make Smiley Faces at Us

When amateur astronomer Judy Schmidt started looking at the Hubble Telescope’s images of the galaxy cluster mouthfully named SDSSJ1038+4849, she saw a face smiling back at her.

GalaxySmile_FACEClick to enlarge!

Schmidt was processing image data from Hubble as a part of the Hubble’s Hidden Treasures project when she found this stunning example of face pareidolia. Instead of Jesus on toast, it was a face in the cosmos. Seven billion light years away, the bright eyes of the face are two galaxies in the cluster. But what about the mouth and the circle outline? Does the universe actually have structures like that?

Most of the smiley face in the image above is actually an illusion produced by so-called “gravitational lensing.” Gravitational lensing is the result of gravity’s pull on light. When something, like a galaxy cluster, has enormous gravity, it can bend the fabric of space so that even mass-less light bends according to the curve.

GalaxySmile_LENSGravitational lensing at work.

One of the most famous examples of gravitational lensing is the Einstein Cross. In the image we see a point of light surrounded by four others, when in reality those are four images of one object. There are not four lights. The duplication is gravity’s fault.

While it may be an illusion, seeing billion-year-old light curved into a way that tickles our fancy for faces is still pretty special.

IMAGE: NASA; ESA

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Comments

  1. Star Lord says:

    “Most of the smiley face in the image above is actually an illusion…” Or maybe it’s exactly what the universe wanted us to see.