Hubble Captures Gallery of Ultra-Bright Galaxies
These six images, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, reveal a jumble of misshapen-looking galaxies punctuated by exotic patterns such as arcs, streaks, and smeared rings. These unusual features are the stretched shapes of the universe's brightest infrared galaxies that are boosted by natural cosmic magnifying lenses. Some of the oddball shapes in the images also may have been produced by spectacular collisions between distant, massive galaxies in a sort of cosmic demolition derby.
This so-called gravitational lensing occurs when the intense gravity of a massive galaxy or cluster of galaxies magnifies the light of fainter, more distant background sources. The "lenses" are foreground massive galaxies whose gravity magnifies and distorts images of the distant bright infrared galaxies behind them.
The faraway galaxies are as much as 10,000 times more luminous than our Milky Way. The lensing phenomenon allows for features as small as about 100 light-years or less across to be seen in the background galaxies.
The galaxies existed between 8 billion and 11.5 billion years ago, when the universe was making stars more vigorously than it is today. The galaxies are ablaze with runaway star formation, pumping out more than 10,000 new stars a year. The star-birth frenzy creates lots of dust, which enshrouds the galaxies, making them too faint to detect in visible light. But they glow fiercely in infrared light, shining with the brilliance of 10 trillion to 100 trillion suns.
The infrared galaxies in these images are part of a Hubble survey of 22 distant ultra-luminous infrared galaxies that were found by ground- and space-based observatories. The images were taken in infrared light by Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3.