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Hubble Image of Galaxy Cluster and Gravitational Lens Abell 1689

This new image from Hubble of the massive galaxy cluster Abell 1689 shows the phenomenon of gravitational lensing with unprecedented clarity. This cluster acts like a cosmic lens, magnifying the light from objects lying behind it and making it possible for astronomers to explore incredibly distant regions of space. As well as being packed with galaxies, Abell 1689 has been found to host a huge population of globular clusters.

While our galaxy, the Milky Way, is only home to around 150 of these old clumps of stars, Hubble astronomers estimate that this galaxy cluster could possibly contain over 160,000 globulars overall, an unprecedented number.

This image is peppered with glowing golden elliptical galaxies, bright stars, and distant, ethereal spiral galaxies. Also visible are a number of blue streaks, circling and arcing around the fuzzy galaxies in the center of the image.

These streaks are the tell-tale signs of a cosmic phenomenon known as gravitational lensing. Abell 1689 is so massive that it actually bends and warps the space around it, affecting how light from objects behind the cluster travels through space. These streaks are distorted forms of galaxies that lie behind Abell 1689. While the galaxy cluster is just over 2 billion light-years away, the galaxies being lensed are over 13 billion light-years distant.

Galaxy clusters like Abell 1689 exploit the magnifying powers of massive gravitational lenses to see even further into the distant Universe.

Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys snapped these images from June 12 to 21, 2002, and between May 29 and July 8, 2010.

Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA) Acknowledgment: J. Blakeslee (NRC Herzberg Astrophysics Program, Dominion Astrophysical Observatory) and H. Ford (JHU)