The universe, it seems, is pretty pleased with the Hubble Space Telescope. I mean, just look at that smile!
Kidding aside, it's hard to miss what looks like a cosmic smiley face in this photo from the Hubble telescope. It's especially poignant given the troubles the aging Hubble had recently when balky gyroscopes knocked the space telescope offline for weeks until a fix could be devised. (That fix succeeded, and Hubble is back in action.)
And so, the universe smiled.
This view from Hubble shows a vast array of galaxies, many of them from the galaxy cluster SDSS J0952+3434. The smiley face is actually a trick of gravity and light. Two brilliant galaxies form the eyes while a third, distorted galaxy forms the "smile." [The Hubble Space Telescope's Greatest Discoveries]
The arc of that smile is due to gravitational lensing, as NASA and the European Space Agency explained in a statement: "The lower, arc-shaped galaxy has the characteristic shape of a galaxy that has been gravitationally lensed — its light has passed near a massive object en route to us, causing it to become distorted and stretched out of shape."
This photo was captured by Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3, which astronauts installed during the last servicing mission to the space telescope in 2010. ESA officials released the image on Oct. 15, and NASA showcased the space smile on Nov. 2. The Hubble Space Telescope is 28 years old. It launched into space in April 1990.
"Hubble captured this image in an effort to understand how new stars spring to life throughout the cosmos," NASA officials said. "WFC3 is able to view distant galaxies at an unprecedented resolution — high enough to locate and study regions of star formation within them."
This isn't the first time Hubble has captured a smile in space.
In 2015, another group of gravitationally lensed galaxies created a dazzling smiley face, this one compete with nose and cheeks. That face was made up of galaxies from the cluster SDSS J1038+4849
Seeing faces in space is nothing new. But that doesn't mean the universe is trying to cheer us up. The phenomenon is called pareidolia, and is when we see familiar shapes or patterns in objects that aren't actually there. The iconic Face on Mars photo from NASA's Viking missions is a famous example of pareidolia.
Editor's note: This story was updated to correct the age of the Hubble Space Telescope. It is 28 years old, not 18 years old.
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Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of Space.com and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became Space.com's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining Space.com, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at Space.com and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.