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This Hubble photo will make you feel so insignificant

Published May 24th, 2021 11:06PM EDT
hubble galaxies
Image: ESA/Hubble & NASA, F. Pacaud, D. Coe

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It’s Monday, and that’s not good news for anyone. We wake up, crack our aching backs, and start yet another work week. We’re important, and the show can’t go on without us, or at least that’s what we like to tell ourselves. The reality of the situation is a little bit different. Our daily grind is over little consequence in the cosmos, and an incredible photo captured by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope is a great reminder of just how tiny we — and our entire planet and even solar system — are in the grand scheme of things.

The image, which NASA showcases in a new blog post, focuses on a galaxy cluster called ACO S 295. It’s a massive collection of individual galaxies in various shapes and sizes, ranging from gorgeous spirals to huge clouds of stars, planets, moons, and the like. It’s an almost unfathomable number of worlds captured in a single image, and it’s utterly impossible for any of us to know what lurks out there.

The image — you can view the full-resolution version here — has a few hidden easter eggs that might not be obvious at first glance. It’s hard to tell the distance of any of the objects here, but the center of the image is the galaxy cluster itself and many of the smaller dots and smears throughout the image are galaxies in the background. Some of the more interesting things to search for are galaxies that look as though they’ve been stretched or bent at odd angles.

Nothing escapes the pull of gravity, not even light itself, so the light from the galaxies behind the cluster is often bent due to what is known as gravitational lensing. Gravitational lensing was something that Einstein had many theories about, and he’s been proven right thanks to modern technology. When an object rests behind a large structure in space like a galaxy, the light from that object appears on the sides of whatever is in front of it, from our perspective. What we see is looks strange, but it’s actually just gravity distorting the light as it moves through space.

NASA’s description of the image:

Galaxies of all shapes and sizes populate this image, ranging from stately spirals to fuzzy ellipticals. This galactic menagerie boasts a range of orientations and sizes, with spiral galaxies such as the one at the center of this image appearing almost face on, and some edge-on spiral galaxies visible only as thin slivers of light.

The galaxy cluster dominates the center of this image, both visually and physically. The cluster’s huge mass has gravitationally lensed the light from background galaxies, distorting and smearing their shapes. In addition to providing astronomers with a natural magnifying glass with which to study distant galaxies, gravitational lensing has subtly framed the center of this image, producing a visually striking scene.

Our own galaxy holds anywhere from 100 billion to 400 billion stars, based on estimates. Imagine the number of planets orbiting those stars, and the moons orbiting those planets, and you’re left with a truly ridiculous number of worlds where life might exist. In this Hubble image, we see hundreds of galaxies, each with its own colossal collections of stars, planets, and moons. It’s enough to make you realize that any problems we have in our lives are pretty insignificant.

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