Gravitational Lens Captures Image of Primeval Galaxy
This Hubble Space Telescope image shows several blue, loop-shaped objects that actually are multiple images of the same galaxy. They have been duplicated by the gravitational lens of the cluster of yellow, elliptical and spiral galaxies - called 0024+1654 - near the photograph's center. The gravitational lens is produced by the cluster's tremendous gravitational field that bends light to magnify, brighten and distort the image of a more distant object. How distorted the image becomes and how many copies are made depends on the alignment between the foreground cluster and the more distant galaxy, which is behind the cluster.
In this photograph, light from the distant galaxy bends as it passes through the cluster, dividing the galaxy into five separate images. One image is near the center of the photograph; the others are at 6, 7, 8, and 2 o'clock. The light also has distorted the galaxy's image from a normal spiral shape into a more arc-shaped object. Astronomers are certain the blue-shaped objects are copies of the same galaxy because the shapes are similar. The cluster is 5 billion light-years away in the constellation Pisces, and the blue-shaped galaxy is about 2 times farther away.
Though the gravitational light-bending process is not new, Hubble's high resolution image reveals structures within the blue-shaped galaxy that astronomers have never seen before. Some of the structures are as small as 300 light-years across. The bits of white imbedded in the blue galaxy represent young stars; the dark core inside the ring is dust, the material used to make stars. This information, together with the blue color and unusual "lumpy" appearance, suggests a young, star-making galaxy.
The picture was taken October 14, 1994 with the Wide Field Planetary Camera-2. Separate exposures in blue and red wavelengths were taken to construct this color picture.
April 24, 1996
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