The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has captured what they describe as a “truly strange and very rare phenomenon”–the largest and one of the most complete Einstein rings ever discovered in our universe. The object GAL-CLUS-022058s –first theorized to exist by Einstein in his general theory of relativity–has been nicknamed by astronomers studying this Einstein ring as the “Molten Ring,” which alludes to its appearance in the southern hemisphere constellation of Fornax (the Furnace).
Einstein’s Gravitational Theory
The phenomenon of gravitational lensing cannot be explained without general relativity. Einstein’s gravitational theory, which is said to be the greatest single achievement of theoretical physics, resulted in beautiful relations connecting gravitational phenomena with the geometry of space, said the great Caltech physicist Richard Feynman.
First theorized to exist by Einstein in his general theory of relativity, this object’s unusual shape, its geometry, reports Hubble, “can be explained by a process called gravitational lensing, which causes light shining from far away to be bent and pulled by the gravity of an object between its source and the observer. In this case, the light from the background galaxy has been distorted into the curve we see by the gravity of the galaxy cluster sitting in front of it. The near exact alignment of the background galaxy with the central elliptical galaxy of the cluster, seen in the middle of this image, has warped and magnified the image of the background galaxy into an almost perfect ring. The gravity from other galaxies in the cluster causes additional distortions.”
Objects like these are the ideal laboratories in which to study galaxies that are often too faint and distant to otherwise see without gravitational lensing.
“Recent results from astronomers who study the occasional gravitational lensing of unknown worlds by intervening stars,” says SETI Institute astronomer Seth Shostak, “suggest that orphan planets could be at least as numerous as the stars. In other words, there could be hundreds of billions of orphan worlds shuffling through our galaxy.”
The Daily Galaxy, Sam Cabot, via NASA
Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, S. Jha)