Thursday, October 9, 2008

I Spy With My Little Eye

That this looks like a giant eye in space is only the mildly cool bit.

The wildly cool bit is what causes the image to form. It's a gravitational lens, otherwise known as an Einstein ring.

The "pupil" of the eye, at center, is a galaxy 2 billion light years away. Directly behind that galaxy is another one, 11 billion miles away.

Follow me here: the extreme gravitational forces from the close galaxy bend the time and space around it, forming a sort of lens. Not figuratively. Literally. It's a giant lens made not of glass, but of space itself. Let me repeat that: it's a lens made of bent space. The lens distorts and magnifies the light from the faraway galaxy, bending it so it looks like a bright ring around the close one. Normally, the faraway galaxy would be too faint to see. The lens magnifies the light so that we can.

I don't know why it's blue. Perhaps it's a false color image. Or a Doppler shift of some kind.

Einstein predicted this kinda stuff would happen if we looked deep enough into space (something we couldn't do at the time he predicted it). That's why it's sometimes called an Einstein ring.

Is that cool, or what?

I grabbed the image, and the details, from the always interesting Bad Astronomy blog. I asked him why it was blue, but he's too famous to answer. He even gets interviewed on Art Bell!


While I'm at it, another space eye.

This is the Helix Nebula, sometimes called the Eye of God Nebula. It is much closer - a mere 700 light years away - and was created by the death of a star in our own galaxy. The resultant explosion created a tube of glowing gas along the poles of the star, and we're looking down that tube. Look closely and you can see original star, at the center of the picture.

First photo is from the Keck observatory. Second one is from the Hubble. Both are from NASA.


Eric Shonkwiler said...

What are the effects of being in bent space and time? Are we in bent space now? Or is it a relative thing? Also, am I making sense?

meno said...

At first i thought it was The Eye of Sauron. But the reality is much cooler.

That gravity is some crazy stuff.

Nancy Dancehall said...

Gravity's just love on a universal scale.


Actually, that's really awesome. And I like Eric's question.

Irrelephant said...

I love these sorts of posts. They make me look up and wonder just what's going on up there. And then I realise that we'll likely never figure it out, or at least we won't get any good answers in my lifetime and I feel better about it. *g*

This post also kindled the fire for my Poetry Friday post, so in part I blame you for THAT train wreck. *lol*

Starr Astronomer said...

Interesting post !! very well said. found your name in a comment on Bad Astronomy . And checked out your site .

Hilary said...

Wow.. very cool. I'll bet one of your first questions ever was "why is the sky blue?" - and now this. Let us know if you ever learn why it's blue. The ring - not the sky. ;)

Mutha said...

Holy Crap that second one is so spooky! it makes me want to go "AH!"

Clowncar said...

Yep, it's all relative, Eric. The space you live in is already being bent - by the earth, the sun, the moon, the Milky Way galaxy. But since you inhabit that bendy space you don't notice. Helluva potent metaphor to play with there.

Meno - yeah, Sauron occurred to me too. The site I grabbed it from thought it looked like the Eye of Ra.

Nancy, that's pretty girly for one as scientific as yourself. La!

Irr, I take pride in whatever tiny influence I made have had on that excellently creepy post. Go read it, everyone!

Thanks Starr! I like your astro photos. Sadly, I have a dobsonian, so can't do photography. Thanks for stopping by.

I will, Hilary. My first question was, I believe, "Why is that doctor spanking me?"

Mutha, I just read your blog about Mr. Met haunting your child's dreams. Very funny. And here I am scaring you with space eyeballs. Sorry.

Clowncar said...

Eye of Horus. Not eye of Ra.

If you care.

Which seems unlikely.

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

I absolutely love the details. And the wonder in seeing it.

What a wondrous place we live in, and inconceivably enormous, beautiful, mysterious and intriguing.


Thanks for the treats!

Scarlett & Viaggiatore