Jun 24, 2019 | Updated: 11:41 AM EDT

How ‘Gravitational Lensing’ Made One Supernova into Four—‘Einstein Cross’

Mar 08, 2015 12:28 PM EDT

Gravitational Lensing and Einstein Cross
(Photo : NASA/ESA/GLASS/SN Team)

When it comes to space-time phenomenon researchers often have to always be on the nose because they only have one shot in a lifetime to capture an event. But if they're lucky enough, and there are strange enough situations at play, they may have more than one chance to shine. One such phenomenon was recently found, and in a study published this week in the journal Science researchers are saying that it allowed them see a massive supernova four times around the galaxy.

Nicknamed the "Einstein Cross" after the famous physicist who predicted the possibility of the phenomenon as a result of his theory of relativity more than a century ago, the formation was made possible by a strange occurrence known as gravitational lensing. When a galaxy or cluster is large enough, they can often bend light that passes through it. And when they are rather perfectly aligned with Earth, even small events too far to be seen can be magnified so that researchers are able to detect them. 

While "Einstein Crosses" have been seen before, the new report is unique in that the strange lensing effect revealed a supernova that happened to jump into the right view. The supernova,  which is 9 billion light years away, would have been too far away to be seen by any man-made telescope, but researchers were fortunate enough to find that the rare event was lensed twice, resulting in the light of the explosion being magnified 20 times what it would normally be. Not just that, but the light of the supernova actually appeared in four different spots in the sky and was captured in four different images by the Hubble Space Telescope.

"It really threw me for a loop when I spotted the four images surrounding the galaxy-it was a complete surprise" lead author of the study, Patrick Kelly says. 

"Basically, we get to see the supernova four times and measure the time delays between its arrival in the different images, hopefully learning something about the supernova and the kind of star it exploded from, as well as about the gravitational lenses."

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