Hubble shoots a shattered heart

The Hubble space telescope has taken its strangest photo ever – of the same object shining in five different places.
The remote subject, the brilliant heart of a galaxy, shows up as five separate streaks on the image released today.
It is the most incredible example yet discovered of a phenomenon predicted by Albert Einstein called gravitational lensing.
The galaxy’s bright nucleus, called a quasar, actually lies behind a cluster of galaxies in the “foreground” of the photo.
But the gravitational field of the cluster warps space, bending and magnifying the quasar’s light – just like a lens in a telescope or flaws in windows made from cheap glass.
It makes the quasar appear on all sides of the galaxy cluster.
The cluster may be in the foreground but it is by no means close. In fact it is one of the most distant groups of galaxies known and we are seeing it as it was seven billion years ago when the universe was half its present age.
The cluster held another surprise for the astronomers – a supernova caused by a star blowing itself to pieces.
The galaxy containing the quasar is believed to lie ten billion light-years away. The most distant galaxy yet observed is 12 billion light-years from us.
The Hubble photo, produced by an international team of astronomers, also reveals countless other galaxies, each containing many millions of suns, in one tiny region of the sky.
It is part of a mapping project of the heavens called the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. The galaxy cluster creating the lens is known as SDSS J1004+4112.
Hubble, in orbit around the Earth, is operated jointly by Nasa and the European Space Agency.

Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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