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The Twin Quasar - A Rare Astrophotography Target Showing Gravitational Lensing

Updated: May 18, 2023

The Twin Quasar is a quasar in the constellation Ursa Major that appears as two distinct quasars due to gravitational lensing. This is a mind-boggling object that is faint, extremely far away, and rarely photographed by amateur astrophotographers.

I captured the Twin Quasar on a full moon night from a Bortle 4 zone using a One-Shot-Color camera and a refractor telescope. In this post, you will learn all about the Twin Quasar, why it is such an interesting object, and how it made history.

Make sure to also watch our video on YouTube where you can see how I photographed this object from beginning to end!

Object Designation: QSO 0957+561

Also known as: Twin Quasar / Double Quasar

Constellation: Ursa Major

Object Type: Quasar

Distance: 8.7 billion light-years away

Magnitude: 16.7

Discovered in: 1979

The Twin Quasar by the Hubble Space Telescope
The Twin Quasar by the Hubble Space Telescope

The photo on the left was taken by NASA and shows a deep view of the Twin Quasar (the two bright blue dots with diffraction spikes).

You might be able to spot a yellowish galaxy in between the two, this is a giant elliptical galaxy known as YGKOW G1 which is believed to be the main contributor to the gravitational lensing effect.

This galaxy is part of a cluster of several galaxies which also affect the lensing.

Example of gravitational lensing with the "Space Smiley Face"
Example of gravitational lensing - Space Smiley Face

Gravitational lensing effects are not very common and aren't really impressive in any way when imaged with amateur equipment.

On the other hand, they are often incredibly beautiful occurrences when captured by professional telescopes, like the Hubble Space Telescope.

The image on the right shows SDSS J1038+4849 (or "Cheshire Cat), a galaxy cluster in Ursa Major that is famous for looking like a space Smiley Face.