Decades ago, Albert Einstein predicted gravitational lenses as part of his theory of general relativity. Another physicist at the time predicted that if the Earth and the gravitational lens, as well as a distant object, were lined up just right, we’d see a halo, ring, or mirror of that object. Einstein said we’d never observe it directly. However, the ESO’s Very Large Telescope has now captured evidence of an “Einstein Cross.”
Like the Einstein Ring, an Einstein Cross happens when the gravitational lensing, the object we’re observing, and our point of view line up exactly right. Unlike a ring, though, an Einstein Cross showcases the mirroring as if we’re looking at multiple objects all around each other. But, in reality, it’s just one object mirrored four different times.
It’s a mind-boggling phenomenon, and when Einstein predicted that we’d never see such things, it was because he couldn’t conceive that the distant galaxies we wanted to observe would ever line up exactly how we needed them to. Further, the possibility of a telescope being powerful enough to look that far out into space was unheard of at the time.
The “flower with four petals,” as the European Southern Observatory refers to it, is at the center of a new paper released in The Astrophysical Journal Letters this month. In the paper, astronomers Aleksandar Cikota and his team look deeper into the phenomenon and confirm the existence of the Einstien Cross using the Very Large Telescope.
The light from these galaxies is estimated to date back to 11 billion years ago, making these galaxies very distant. In fact, the galaxy is so far away that even the Very Large Telescope requires gravitational lensing to get a better look at it. You can learn more about this particular Einstein Cross in the new paper.
It’s crazy to think that someone as pivotal to our understanding of the universe as Einstein could have been wrong about something that now seems so simple to us. But this discovery simply showcases how important it is to prove theories and why theorization is such an important part of how we learn about our universe.