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Gravity as lens? Einstein was right, ‘four petals galaxy’ is another proof


The European Southern Observatory has recently unveiled a distinctive image featuring galaxies, wherein one luminous mass is encircled by four smaller points, resembling a flower with blue petals.

Image of galaxies resembling flowers with four petals.(ESO/A. Cikota et al.)
Image of galaxies resembling flowers with four petals.(ESO/A. Cikota et al.)

These observations were conducted using the Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) instrument at ESO’s VLT in Chile.

Decoding four ‘petals’ galaxies

The four ‘petals’ are actually images of a distant galaxy concealed behind the central orange galaxy. “Something very fascinating happens to allow us to detect the light from this hidden object: the galaxy at the centre acts as a gravitational lens, bending the light emitted from the distant galaxy around it,” ESO said.

Consequently, it explained, we perceive multiple distorted and magnified images of the distant galaxy. In this particular alignment, the concealed galaxy manifests as four images arranged around the central ‘lens’ galaxy, forming a cross-like or flower-like pattern known as an Einstein Cross.

What is gravitational lensing, and how is Einstein connected to it?

Gravitational lensing occurs when light from a distant object passes near a massive object in space, causing it to bend or curve. When observed from Earth, this bending alters the appearance or position of the distant object, much like the effect seen through a magnifier. Gravitational lensing refers to this phenomenon.

In 1915, Albert Einstein introduced his theory of general relativity, which included a key prediction: massive objects such as stars or galaxies could deflect the path of light as it traversed through spacetime.

What is the significance of the observation?

An important consequence of Gravitational lensing distortion is magnification, allowing us to observe objects that would otherwise be too far away and too faint to be seen.

This phenomenon offers invaluable insights into astrophysics and cosmology, aiding in the determination of galaxy mass profiles and the refinement of cosmological parameters.

The results of these observations, featured in a new research paper, reveal that the distant galaxy is undergoing rapid star formation. Since the light from this galaxy originated when the Universe was only about 20% of its current age, studying it provides vital clues about the early formation of galaxies in the Universe.


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