The universe is smiling down on us—almost literally. The Hubble Telescope has captured a "smiley face" in space: two bright yellow eyes (a cluster of galaxies called SDSS J1038+4849), a white nose, and a faint smile and incomplete circle around the entire face.
But those curving lines "don't exist—or at least not in the form that we see them in the photo," writes Michelle Starr at CNET. As SpaceTelescope.org reports, galaxy clusters have a mammoth gravitational pull, and at Slate, astronomer Phil Plait explains why in pretty easy-to-understand terms: The cluster holds trillions of stars, which is "a lot of mass, and a lot of gravity." J1038 is roughly 4.5 billion light-years away, and past it, at a distance of 7.5 billion light-years, are additional galaxies.
When those galaxies' light passes through the area that's been altered by the cluster's gravity, the light is bent. The phenomenon is called gravitational lensing, and the "strongest" example of it is called an Einstein ring, as in the Hubble image.
As Starr writes, such rings "only occur when the source of the original light, gravitational lens, and observer are in exact alignment in a straight line." Though the observer in this case was Hubble, the image surfaced thanks to Judy Schmidt, who submitted the image via the "Hubble's Hidden Treasures" effort, which invites armchair astronomers to search the massive Hubble archive for "iconic" photos the public has never seen.
This image was released by NASA yesterday. The phenomenon of seeing non-existent faces in things—it's known as face pareidolia—has been known for centuries, and last year, researchers confirmed that it's perfectly normal and relates to how our brains are wired.
This article originally appeared on Newser: The Hubble Spots 'Smiley Face' in Space
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