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Astronomical Discovery Reveals the Universe is Happy

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Astronomical Discovery Reveals the Universe is Happy

From supernova to newly discovered galaxies, the Hubble Space Telescope has been providing astronomers with awe-inspiring images of celestial objects for a quarter of a century now. However, this recent discovery is awesome in a most unique way. In a galaxy cluster labeled SDSS J1038+4849, Hubble has spotted a cosmic “smiley face.” Or so it appears from thousands of light-years away.

The face was “identified” by one Judy Schmidt while sifting through Hubble’s data files, which were made publically available in an image-processing competition. The competition makes anyone eligible to identify any previously unnoticed celestial feature.

In actuality, the so-called smiley face’s two eyes comprise two very bright galaxies, while the apparent smile is the result of gravitational lensing. As indicated in Einstein’s theory of general relativity, large galaxy clusters can produce such strong gravitational pull that they warp time-space around them. Light passing through such a warp can be redirected, magnified or distorted like through a lens. This is what’s creating the arc, or smile that we see on the smiley face. The circle outlining the face is called an Einstein Ring, and is produced by a particular view of a galactic cluster also warped by time-space, and in direct line with the Hubble Telescope.

But there’s more to seeing a face in space - as is also the case with the “man in the moon.” The human tendency to see faces in inanimate objects is called pareidolia. This neurological predisposition may possibly be an extension of our evolutionary capacity to recognize human faces - even when they’re new faces, or we can’t fully see them.

In any case, we’re happy to see a happy face beaming back at us. With all that dark matter around out there, and the threat of entropy bringing the universe to an eventual standstill, some lightening up is definitely welcomed.


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