The powerful resolution and sensitivity of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope reveal wonders of the universe in this image. The ability of gravity to warp the fabric of space itself is displayed, as the massive galaxy cluster Abell S1063 at center is surrounded by the distorted and magnified light of galaxies much farther away. The combined mass of the galaxies in the cluster act as a natural magnifying glass or funhouse mirror, showing amazing detail, but with a warped effect.
Natural magnifiers like these allow scientists to study details of distant galaxies they could not see otherwise. The distant, warped galaxies also provide information about the cluster that is revealing them. Extreme distortion stretches distant galaxies into a smeared arc, indicating the mass distribution of the galaxy cluster. Likewise, some distant galaxies appear multiple times through the “lens,” and any changes within them, like a supernova, will show up in one reflection of the galaxy and then another, indicating how light is travelling through the distorted space.
Hubble also captures the faint intracluster glow between the galaxies that make up Abell S1063, produced by free-floating “orphan” stars that were thrown from their galaxies during mergers. These stars align themselves with the overall gravity map of the cluster, and have been used as an indicator of where dark matter is distributed. In this way, the intracluster light is used to trace the location of dark matter, which is in itself undetectable.