Mystery of a strange mirrored double galaxy solved using Hubble data

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When telescopes like Hubble go out into the universe, they can sometimes capture the view of very distant objects using a phenomenon called gravitational lensing. This is where a massive object such as a galaxy passes between a distant object and Earth, and the gravity of this intermediate object distorts spacetime and acts as a magnifying glass. This allows astronomers to see objects that would otherwise be very blurry and distant.

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But sometimes these events result in strange results, such as an oddity observed by Hubble in 2013 that appeared to be two objects that were perfect mirror images of each other.

This Hubble Space Telescope snapshot shows three magnified images of a distant galaxy embedded in a cluster of galaxies.
This Hubble Space Telescope snapshot shows three magnified images of a distant galaxy embedded in a cluster of galaxies. Main authors: NASA, ESA, Richard E. Griffiths (UH Hilo) Co-authors: Jenny Wagner (ZAH) Image processing: Joseph de Pascal (STScI)

Astronomers are used to seeing galaxies that appear to be spread out in odd shapes due to gravitational lensing, but this mirroring effect was startling. “We were really stunned,” said Shawnee State University astronomer Timothy Hamilton, who first observed the object. Statement.


Since then, Hamilton and others have been studying the strange object and have finally discovered its enigmatic nature. They found that there was a vast group of galaxies previously undetected between Earth and the object, aligned in such a way that it produced two twin images of a distant galaxy. The background galaxy is propelled into a wave in space created by dark matter – and this wave creates not only two reflected images, but also a third image of a galaxy located side by side.

“Think of the wavy surface of a swimming pool on a sunny day, showing patterns of bright light at the bottom of the pool,” pointed out another researchers, Richard Griffiths of the University of Hawaii in Hilo. “These bright patterns on the plane are caused by a similar effect to gravitational lensing. The waves on the surface act as a partial lens and focus sunlight into the bright squiggly pattern on the plane.”

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This very rare discovery not only gives astronomers a peek into a distant galaxy – it could also help them learn more about dark matter, which makes up a large percentage of our universe, by showing how “weird” it is or “smooth”. This is important because we still have a lot to understand about this mysterious matter.

“We know it is in some form, but we have no idea what the constituent particle is,” Griffiths said. “So we don’t know how it behaves. All we know is that it has mass and is subject to gravity. The importance of the size limit on clumping or smoothness is that it gives us some clues as to what the particle might be. The smaller the dark matter, the larger the particles must be.”

The research is published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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