The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has produced this beautiful image of the massive and rich galaxy cluster Abell 1351.
Galaxy clusters contain thousands of galaxies of all ages, shapes and sizes.
Typically, they have a mass of about one million billion times the mass of the Sun.
At one point in time they were believed to be the largest structures in the Universe — until they were usurped in the 1980s by the discovery of superclusters.
However, clusters do have one thing to cling on to; superclusters are not held together by gravity, so galaxy clusters still retain the title of the biggest structures in the Universe bound by gravity.
Albert Einstein predicted in his theory of general relativity that massive objects will deform the fabric of space itself.
When light passes one of these objects, such as a massive galaxy cluster, its path is changed slightly.
“This Hubble image is filled with streaks of light, which are actually the images of distant galaxies,” Hubble astronomers said.
“The streaks are the result of gravitational lensing, an astrophysical phenomenon that occurs when a massive celestial body such as a galaxy cluster distorts spacetime sufficiently strongly to affect the path of light passing through it — almost as if the light were passing through a gigantic lens.”
“Gravitational lensing comes in two varieties — strong and weak — and both can give astronomers an insight into the distribution of mass within a lensing galaxy cluster such as Abell 1351.”
Abell 1351 is located some 4 billion light-years away in the northern constellation of Ursa Major.
Also known as MACS J1142.4+5831, this cluster contains at least 100 members galaxies.
“The Hubble observation is part of an astronomical album comprising snapshots of some of the most massive galaxy clusters,” the researchers said.
“This menagerie of massive clusters demonstrates interesting astrophysical phenomena such as strong gravitational lensing, as well as showcasing spectacular examples of violent galaxy evolution.”
“To obtain this astronomical album, astronomers proposed a Snapshot Program to be slotted into Hubble’s packed observing schedule.”
“These Snapshot Programs are lists of separate, relatively short exposures which can fit into gaps between longer Hubble observations.”
“Having a large pool of Snapshot candidates to dip into allows Hubble to use every second of observing time possible and to maximize the scientific output of the observatory.”
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