Astronomers have accidentally discovered a new galaxy 11 billion light-years from Earth, using data from the Hubble Space Telescope.
The scientists noted that they were looking at the galaxy cluster, known as SDSS J223010.47-081017.8, when they found what they thought was an accurate reflection of the galaxy and its companion.
Scientists discovered an unusual configuration of the gravitational lens, as they spotted two bright objects that appeared to be mirror images of each other, while another eccentric object was nearby.
In other words, there are three observations of the same galaxy for no apparent reason.
These features confused astronomers so much that it took them several years to unravel the mystery.
With the help of two gravitational lensing experts, the researchers determined that the three objects were distorted images of a distant, undiscovered galaxy. But the biggest surprise was that the linear objects were exact copies of each other, a rare event caused by the precise alignment of the background galaxy and the foreground lens group.
The Hubble telescope made this discovery thanks to a gravitational lens, which was first predicted by Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity.
Gravitational lensing occurs when a massive amount of matter, such as cluster galaxies, creates “a gravitational field that distorts and magnifies light from galaxies behind but in the same line of sight,” according to NASA.
This effect is similar to looking into a magnifying glass, and allows researchers to discover early galaxies that cannot yet be seen using modern technology.
The reflected images are now named after the astronomer Timothy Hamilton of Shawnee State University in Portsmouth, Ohio, who made the discovery.
“We were really baffled,” Hamilton said. “My first thought was that they might be interacting with galaxies with tidal arms. It didn’t really fit, but I didn’t know what to think either.”
Hubble was looking at the nuclei of active galaxies, also known as quasars, when he came across the two bright images that looked as if they were reflections of each other.
“Think of the undulating surface of a swimming pool on a sunny day, showing patterns of bright light at the bottom of the pool,” Richard Griffiths, co-lead author of the study, said in a statement.
He explained: “These bright patterns at the bottom are caused by a similar type of gravitational lensing effect. The ripples on the surface act as partial lenses and focus sunlight onto shiny zigzag patterns below.”
“This gravitational lens is very different from most of the lenses that Hubble has studied before, particularly in the Hubble Frontier Fields survey of clusters,” Griffiths added. You don’t have to stare at those groups for long to find many lenses. In this body, this is the only lens we have. We didn’t even know about the block at first.”
The images revealed that the galaxy is located 11 billion light-years away, while the foreground mass known as SDSS J223010.47-081017.8 is located more than 7 billion light-years away.
Astronomers hope that observations of “Hamilton objects” will provide clues about the nature of dark matter.
Source: Daily Mail