Sky Shows Galaxy-lensed “Reruns” of Exploding Supernova, Demonstrating Gravity of the Situation

(Image: NASA/ESA)

(Image: NASA/ESA)

Sometimes space is just awesome. More specifically, stuff (or mass) in space has some properties that manifest in empirically awesome ways. Earlier this week, Science put out a report on a supernova (Wikipedia) observed behind a galaxy in the MACS J1149.6+2223 cluster. This particular supernova is visible due to gravitational lensing (Wikipedia) around the cluster, greatly magnifying the image.

But the incredible part about this imagery is that we’re seeing the same supernova repeating at different places close together in the sky. This is because the gravitational lensing is causing the light to take different paths, which means the photons received from each path have been traveling for a longer time than each other. Over approximately 9 billion light years, those subtle differences add up, so we’re seeing the supernova at different times in its history simultaneously.

Galaxy in Front of Supernova Creates Cosmic Mirage: Einstein Cross (National Geographic):

Far, far away, a galaxy is acting as a cosmic split-screen. Parked in front of an exploding star, the galaxy’s gravity is projecting magnified images of the supernova onto the sky—four images, to be precise, in a celestial mirage called an Einstein Cross.

The weirdness doesn’t end there, though. Within the next decade, the cosmos will replay that exact same explosion, in a different spot in the sky.

In the article (paywalled), Science reports on the supernova, “whose light traversed multiple paths around a strong gravitational lens.” A summary of the article can also be found at phys.org.

Gravitational Lensing Illustration

Illustration for gravitational lens. Bending light around a massive object from a distant source. (Image: NASA)

Read “always.”

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  5 comments for “Sky Shows Galaxy-lensed “Reruns” of Exploding Supernova, Demonstrating Gravity of the Situation

  1. Rook
    March 9, 2015 at 12:42 AM

    Awesome indeed.
    With amazing stuff like this, who needs ghosts, monsters, etc.?

  2. Bill D'Arcy
    March 9, 2015 at 2:20 AM

    I’ve never seen an explanation of why the image is several bright dots, rather than a bright ring (broken or unbroken) of the corresponding radius. Can anyone out there submit a link to a good explanation?

  3. Blargh
    March 9, 2015 at 7:17 AM

    In the article (paywalled), Science reports on the supernova, “whose light traversed multiple paths around a strong gravitational lens.” A summary of the article can also be found at phys.org.

    Like with most physics and astronomy papers these days, there’s a free arXiv preprint available: http://arxiv.org/abs/1411.6009

  4. Ricardo
    March 9, 2015 at 1:19 PM

    The “Einstein ring” occurs when the source, lens, and observer are all aligned (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Einstein_ring)

  5. Dr Rob_W
    March 9, 2015 at 7:49 PM

    And in this case also include Gods, flying spaghetti monsters, omnipotent beings, The Force and also possibly Voldemort. Gravity does some pretty amazing things on massive scales though forcing us to watch repeats of “supernova -exploding star” five freaking times is a little much. My gravity fanfic is “supernova vs black hole”, it would make really powerful reality but I don’t know who to send the script to. I’ve only one copy and I’m sure “supernova” would wreck it and “black hole” never returns stuff. 🙁

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