Sunburst Arc – a galaxy with 12 images located simultaneously at different points in the night sky

The thin ring of light that you can see in the pictures here is not an artifact left after image processing, or even glare on the lenses of the Hubble space telescope, which made this picture. This is the light distorted by the forces of gravity from a galaxy located 11 billion light-years from Earth. And these same forces of gravity are responsible for the fact that the image of the galaxy PSZ1 G311.65-18.48, which received the second name Sunburst Arc, appears simultaneously at 12 different points of the night sky. This, in turn, makes the Sunburst Arc galaxy a kind of record holder for this feature and gives astronomers the opportunity to study it with an incredible degree of detail.

Gravitational lens effect

The forces of gravity, as we all know, are the most powerful and most “long-range” forces in the Universe. The larger the mass of a space object, the greater its invisible and mysterious power, with which it attracts physical matter and even electromagnetic waves, including light, producing a phenomenon known to our readers as a gravitational lens.

In this case, this massive object is a cluster of galaxies, the gravitational lens of which focuses light from a distant galaxy at different points in space. This cluster of galaxies is located at a distance of 4.6 billion light years from Earth, its gravitational field has a very complex shape, due to which many images of the same space object in the background are obtained. Three images of the Sunburst Arc galaxy are located in the upper right part of the image, one in the lower left, and the rest are more or less evenly distributed over the central part of the image.

Hubble telescope image

Due to the sufficiently strong effect of the gravitational lens, some of the “copies” of the image of the Sunburst Arc galaxy have a brightness 10–30 times higher than the brightness of the “original” galaxy, which gives astronomers the opportunity to view details of 520 light-years from its vast depths in its interior.

Moreover, the light from the Sunburst Arc galaxy, reaching the Earth in various ways, travels in space at different distances. Due to this difference, we at the same time see the galaxy as it was at different moments in the past. By all indications, the Sunburst Arc galaxy belongs to the first galaxies in the Universe that were formed during the Age of Reionization, which lasted from 13.3 to 12.8 billion years ago and during which the Universe passed from an opaque to a completely transparent state.

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