Hubble Space Telescope: Celestial 'Smiley' Caused By Gravity, Says NASA

For anyone who likes a cosmic joke, galaxy cluster SDSS J1038+4849 certainly does seem to be smiling at the Hubble Space Telescope.

In the image captured by NASA/ESA using that amazing telescope, it is easy to see the two bright orange eyes and the cute little white nose, but the smile lines themselves are said to be arcs, caused by strong gravitational lensing. It certainly produces a very topical image that anyone would recognize these days.

According to the Hubble Space Telescope official website, galaxy clusters such as this one are the most massive structures in the Universe. They apparently exert such an incredibly strong gravitational pull that they actually warp the space-time around them.

While this might sound like something straight out of Star Trek, this effect then creates cosmic lenses that distort, magnify and bend the light shining behind them. The phenomenon is, apparently, explained by Einstein's theory of general relativity and in the case of the cosmic smiley, is known as an Einstein Ring.

A version of the image above was discovered by Judy Schmidt, a contestant in the Hubble's Hidden Treasures image processing competition. Another example of an Einstein Ring is included below, minus the happy little face.

Hubble Space Telescope

The Hubble Space Telescope is the ideal solution for astronomers probing massive galaxies such as that pictured above and allows mankind to see further out into the early Universe than ever before. Again using a Star Trek reference, thus visibly "going where no man has gone before."

According to CNet, gravitational lensing is also useful in the study of dark matter. Apparently, around 85 percent of the mass out in the universe consists of undefined dark matter and while we cannot see or measure it, using these methods it is possible to at least see its effect on the universe as a whole.

In this case of course, we get a cartoonish and happy face, smiling right back at us with no Klingons anywhere in sight, in fact smiling and saying "cheese," indeed, at the Hubble Space Telescope.

NASA has been producing more than smilies lately, of course, as the Inquisitr reported on some incredible images captured by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), showing us the previously unseen (to us at least) far side of the moon.

Between the Hubble Space Telescope and the Lunar Reconnaisance Orbiter, we are being treated to some pretty spectacular sights indeed.

[Images: Courtesy NASA/ESA]