Astronomers have observed for the first time ever a distant star warp the light of another star, “making it seem as though the object changed its position in the sky,” reports The Verge. The discovery is especially noteworthy as Albert Einstein didn’t think such an observation would be possible. From the report: These events require stars that are very far apart to line up perfectly. That’s why Einstein once wrote that “there is no hope of observing this phenomenon directly.” Our telescope technology has become far more sophisticated than in Einstein’s day — which is what allowed us to observe something he thought we’d never see. In 2014, a group of astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope spotted a rare type of microlensing, when a dense white dwarf star passed in front of another star thousands of light-years away. The stars weren’t exactly aligned, but they were close enough that the white dwarf made it seem like the background star performed a small loop in the sky. “It looks like the white dwarf pushed it out of the way,” Terry Oswalt, an astronomer at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University who was not involved in this discovery but wrote a perspective piece in Science, tells The Verge. “That’s not what happened, of course. It just looks like that.” The astronomers also used the apparent movement of the background star to measure the mass of the passing white dwarf, a novel technique detailed in a paper published today in Science. And they say this isn’t the last time they’ll make measurements like this either. Now that they’ve figured out how to spot these kinds of lensing events, they’re hoping to find even more with new ground- and space-based telescopes that are coming online soon.
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