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Last updated on April 23, 2014 at 15:23 EDT

Space Invaders Photo Bomb Hubble Telescope Pictures

March 5, 2013
The gravitational field surrounding this massive cluster of galaxies, Abell 68, acts as a natural lens in space to brighten and magnify the light coming from very distant background galaxies. Image Credit: N. Rose / NASA / ESA

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

A 1970s classic video game character has photo-bombed a Hubble Space Telescope picture of the Abell 68 galaxy cluster.

The alien from the computer game Space Invaders has shown up in an image of Abell 68, thanks to a little technique known as “gravitational lensing.” Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity helped scientists amplify the light that comes from very distant galaxies. Some images taken by the Hubble telescope are heavily deformed through gravitational lensing, but this is a tool astronomers use to unravel the origins and evolution of the Universe.

A spiral galaxy seen in the upper left of the recently released image features a shape that has been stretched and mirror-morphed thanks to gravitational lensing, creating a shape resembling the 1970s classic alien invader.

[ Watch the Video: Zooming in on Abell 68 ]

Another feature displayed in the image, unrelated to gravitational lensing, is what appears to be purple liquid dripping from a galaxy. This phenomenon is known as “ram pressure stripping,” which is when gas clouds within the galaxy are being stripped out and heated up as the galaxy passes through a region of denser intergalactic gas.

A series of long light streaks can be seen towards the middle of the image, which are also lensing effects of the cluster in the foreground.

The Hubble telescope’s successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, is currently in production and scheduled for launch in 2018. NASA said these latest images offer a glimpse in what James Webb will be capable of producing.

The Webb telescope will be able to produce images that are sharper than Hubble’s infrared images, and it will also be more sensitive to light due to its advanced sensors and larger primary mirror.

[ Watch the Video: Panning Across Abell 68 ]

Engineers working on NASA’s James Webb said they completed a milestone back in January after completing a performance test on the observatory’s aft-optics systems. Lee Feinberg, NASA Optical Telescope Element Manager for the James Webb Space Telescope at the Goddard Space Flight Center, said this test is significant because it means all of the telescope’s mirror systems are ready for integration and testing.

The James Webb telescope was facing the possibility of getting nixed in 2011 after reports emerged it was going to cost another $2 billion in tax dollars to get the observatory up and running. The House Appropriations Committee unveiled a 2012 budget that would have terminated funding for the telescope. However, a Congressional subcommittee decided to keep the project going because it was 70 percent completed at the time.


Source: Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online