Bend it like Einstein: Astronomers turn galaxies into magnifiers

Credit: Science in PublicAstronomers turned a cluster galaxies into an enormous magnifying lens. They used it to study another galaxy, 10.7 Billion light years away, in unprecedented detail.The team of scientists led by Dr. Soniya Sharma (NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre scientist) identified regions of star formation in the distant and old galaxy.The research was supported by Australia's ARC Centre of Excellence for All Sky Astrophysics (3 Dimensions) (ASTRO 3D). It will directly benefit NASA's next orbiting observer.The massive magnifying effect would have made the galaxy, nicknamed cswa128, a blurry object to even the most powerful telescopes. Astronomers can now see stars formed only three billion years after the Big Bang.Dr. Sharma explained that "Our 'lens" is a cluster galaxies approximately 3.3 billion light-years away."The cluster is so large that it bends light into magnifying glasses, making it appear larger than normal. This effect makes cswa128, seven billion light-years away from Earth, seem much larger than it would otherwise.The galaxy actually appears 10 times larger. Bright lights can be clearly seen in clumps. These are signs that stellar nurseries are creating new stars.Albert Einstein's General Theory of Relativity was the first to predict that light would magnify distant objects and bend around massive objects. His confirmation of it during a 1919 solar eclipse propelled him to stardom.In 1979, the idea that lensing could operate on a galactic level was first demonstrated. It is Dr. Sharma’s stock in trade today.The team's latest research, published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, marks a major leap forward in the field. Scientists developed a sophisticated algorithm that accurately interprets the spectroscopic data for the target galaxy, which was captured by the WM Keck Observatory in Hawaii.Dr. Tiantian Yuan, co-author and former ASTRO 3D researcher, said that "this magnifying phenomenon in nature comes at a price."The enlarged images are stretched out and distorted. The algorithm allowed us to determine the true shape and size of the distant galaxies. It also contains twice the amount of star-forming regions than previously reported.Director of ASTRO 3D, Professor Lisa Kewley said: "This new algorithm permits lensed galaxies be reconstructed in much finer detail than ever." It's like looking through a magnifying glass and seeing a clearer picture.NASA is particularly concerned about the success of the current research project.Dr. Sharma stated that the algorithm they have developed will be used to interpret the lensed galaxie observations to be made using the new James Webb Space Telescope. This telescope is scheduled for launch later in the year."It will aid in the mission to understand the mechanism that governs the formation of stars and how galaxies form in the universe."Hubble further explores a galactic menagerie