Hubble image captures hundreds of galaxies 6 billion light-years away

The Hubble Space Telescope photographed hundreds of galaxies and illustrated the phenomenon known as gravitational lensing in a breathtaking image.

Photograph illustrates phenomenon of gravitational lensing first predicted by Einstein

Abell 370 is one of the first galaxy clusters in which astronomers observed gravitational lensing, the warping of space-time by the cluster’s gravitational field that distorts the light from galaxies far behind it. Arcs and streaks in the picture are the stretched images of background galaxies. (NASA, ESA/Hubble, HST Frontier F)

In a breathtaking image of hundreds of galaxies, the Hubble Space Telescope provides an incredible display of a phenomenon known as gravitational lensing.

The telescope, run jointly by NASA and the European Space Agency, imaged a region six billion light-years away containing the galaxy cluster Abell 370. 

Gravitational lensing, first proposed by physicist Albert Einstein in his general theory of relativity, warps space-time, bending light. In the case of this image, galaxies beyond the cluster spread out along multiple paths and appear in a few locations.

The longest streak in the image is the most dramatic display of lensing: there are four separate images of the single galaxy as the stretches and bends in an arc. In fact, all the arcs in this image are galaxies being bent through gravitational lensing.

The region was already imaged in 2009, but this new image contains far more galaxies at a better resolution.

Gravitational lensing allows astronomers to study galaxies that may be farther away, as their light is brought forward. In this photograph there is a galaxy that is more than 13 billion years old, forming shortly after the birth of our universe.

As for the image itself, it took a lot of time to obtain: 630 hours and more than 560 orbits of Earth.

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