Hubble Captures Incredible Snapshot of a Massive Galaxy Cluster

Hubble Space Telescope image of massive galaxy cluster Abell 1351. Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, H. Ebeling, Acknowledgment: L. Shatz

The massive galaxy cluster Abell 1351 is captured in this image by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3 and Advanced Camera for Surveys. This galaxy cluster lies in the constellation Ursa Major in the northern hemisphere.

This image is filled with streaks of light, which are actually images of distant galaxies. 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.

This observation is part of an astronomical album comprising snapshots of some of the most massive galaxy clusters. 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.

AstronomyAstrophysicsEuropean Space AgencyHubble Space Telescope