Interstellar Emoji: Gravitational lensing causes galactic smiley face
(CNN) — Look! Up in the sky, it’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s an emoticon?
It sure looks like a smiley face beaming down from the heavens, but actually it’s a massive galaxy cluster known as SDSS J1038+4849.
The image, captured by the Hubble Space Telescope, looks like two glowing yellow eyes and several curved lines forming a face and a smile.
For more than 20 years, the Hubble Space Telecope has circled quietly above us, capturing a dark, secret world billions of light years away.
Thousands of those stunning photos are available in the Hubble database. This particular one was spotted by Judy Schmidt and sent to the Hubble’s Hidden Treasures competition.
The two glowing eyes are actually two distant galaxies. And the smile? That’s a result of what astronomists call “strong gravitational lensing.”
That happens because the gravitational pull between the two galaxy clusters is so strong it distorts time and space around them.
The “ring like structure” forming the smiley face is known as an “Einstein Ring” — named after the man whose theory of general relativity explains even mysteries as great as a space emoticon.