Gravity distorts space in weird and counterintuitive ways, and the larger the source of gravity, the greater the distortion. An example of gravity’s optical illusions are beautiful rings in space called Einstein’s Rings, one of which was recently captured by the Hubble Space Telescope.
Named after the physicist who predicted the strange stretching influence of gravity over space, studying rings like the one pictured below can help astronomers look into the distance, see a galaxy like this. than it was over 9 billion years ago.
The object may look like a ring, but the source of the light is actually an ordinary old galaxy. The shape of the ring is formed due to a phenomenon called the gravitational lens, in which the light of the distant galaxy is distorted by the gravity of a cluster of galaxies between it and us.
This phenomenon not only changes the apparent shape of the galaxy, but it also amplifies and illuminates it. The galaxy appears 20 times brighter due to the lens effect, which allowed Hubble to image it with the equivalent of a massive 48-meter-aperture telescope.
This particular ring is officially known as GAL-CLUS-022058s, but it also has a more familiar nickname: the Molten Ring, which is aptly located in the constellation Fornax (the Furnace). This image was shared as the Hubble Image of the Week in December of last year, and since then researchers have been studying the ring using other tools, such as the FORS instrument on the Very Large Telescope. (VLT) of the European Southern Observatory.
By looking at this ring, researchers can learn more about a galaxy far, far away, effectively going back in time until the universe is less than half its current age. This period has been a busy and active time in which many stars were born.
“The lens galaxy is one of the brightest galaxies in the millimeter wavelength regime,” said one of the authors, Helmut Dannerbauer of the Canary Islands Institute of Astrophysics in Spain. “Our research has also shown that this is a normal star-forming galaxy (a main sequence galaxy) at the peak time of star formation in the Universe.”