Sci & Tech

‘Double’ galaxy mystifies Hubble astronomers

'Double' galaxy mystifies Hubble astronomers
This Hubble Space Telescope snapshot exhibits three magnified photographs of a distant galaxy embedded in a cluster of galaxies. These photographs are produced by a trick of nature known as gravitational lensing. The galaxy cluster’s immense gravity magnifies and distorts the sunshine from the distant galaxy behind it, creating the a number of photographs. The galaxy cluster, catalogued as SDSS J223010.47-081017.8, is 7 billion light-years from Earth. Hubble has noticed many gravitationally lensed galaxies. However, the photographs noticed on this Hubble snapshot are distinctive. Two of the magnified photographs, proven within the pull-out at backside proper, are actual copies of one another. The two vibrant ovals are the cores of the galaxy. This uncommon phenomenon happens as a result of the background galaxy straddles a ripple within the material of area. This “ripple” is an space of biggest magnification, attributable to the gravity of dense quantities of darkish matter, the unseen glue that makes up a lot of the universe’s mass. As mild from the faraway galaxy passes via the cluster alongside this ripple, two mirror photographs are produced, together with a 3rd picture that may be seen off to the facet. A detailed-up of the third picture is proven within the pull-out at high proper. This picture most intently resembles the distant galaxy, which is positioned greater than 11 billion light-years away. Based on a reconstruction of this picture, the researchers decided that the distant galaxy seems to an edge-on, barred spiral with ongoing, clumpy star formation. The mirror photographs are named “Hamilton’s Object” for the astronomer who found them. Credit: LEAD AUTHOR: NASA, ESA, Richard E. Griffiths (UH Hilo), CO-AUTHOR: Jenny Wagner (ZAH), IMAGE PROCESSING: Joseph DePasquale (STScI)

Gazing into the universe is like wanting right into a funhouse mirror. That’s as a result of gravity warps the material of area, creating optical illusions.

Many of those optical illusions seem when a distant galaxy’s mild is magnified, stretched, and brightened because it passes via an enormous galaxy or galaxy cluster in entrance of it. This phenomenon, known as gravitational lensing, produces a number of, stretched, and brightened photographs of the background galaxy.

This phenomenon permits astronomers to review galaxies so distant they can’t be seen apart from by the consequences of gravitational lensing. The problem is in attempting to reconstruct the distant galaxies from the odd shapes produced by lensing.

But astronomers utilizing the Hubble Space Telescope stumbled upon one such odd form whereas analyzing quasars, the blazing cores of energetic galaxies. They noticed two vibrant, linear objects that seemed to be mirror photographs of one another. Another oddball object was close by.

The options so befuddled the astronomers that it took them a number of years to unravel the thriller. With the assistance of two gravitational-lensing specialists, the researchers decided that the three objects have been the distorted photographs of a faraway, undiscovered galaxy. But the most important shock was that the linear objects have been actual copies of one another, a uncommon prevalence attributable to the exact alignment of the background galaxy and the foreground lensing cluster.

Astronomers have seen some fairly bizarre issues scattered throughout our huge universe, from exploding stars to colliding galaxies. So, you’d assume that once they see an odd celestial object, they might have the ability to determine it.

But NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope uncovered what seems to be a pair of similar objects that look so bizarre it took astronomers a number of years to find out what they’re.

“We were really stumped,” stated astronomer Timothy Hamilton of Shawnee State University in Portsmouth, Ohio.

The oddball objects encompass a pair of galaxy bulges (the central star-filled hub of a galaxy) and a minimum of three almost parallel break up streaks. Hamilton noticed them accidentally whereas utilizing Hubble to survey a set of quasars, the blazing cores of energetic galaxies.

After chasing dead-end theories, soliciting assist from colleagues, and doing plenty of head-scratching, Hamilton and the rising staff, led by Richard Griffiths of the University of Hawaii in Hilo, lastly put collectively the entire clues to unravel the thriller.

The linear objects have been the stretched photographs of a gravitationally lensed distant galaxy, positioned greater than 11 billion light-years away. And, they seemed to be mirror photographs of one another.

The staff found that the immense gravity of an intervening, and uncatalogued, foreground cluster of galaxies was warping area, magnifying, brightening, and stretching the picture of a distant galaxy behind it, a phenomenon known as gravitational lensing. Though Hubble surveys reveal a number of these funhouse-mirror distortions attributable to gravitational lensing, this object was uniquely perplexing.

In this case, a exact alignment between a background galaxy and a foreground galaxy cluster produces twin magnified copies of the identical picture of the distant galaxy. This uncommon phenomenon happens as a result of the background galaxy straddles a ripple within the material of area. This “ripple” is an space of biggest magnification, attributable to the gravity of dense quantities of darkish matter, the unseen glue that makes up a lot of the universe’s mass. As mild from the faraway galaxy passes via the cluster alongside this ripple, two mirror photographs are produced, together with a 3rd picture that may be seen off to the facet.

Griffiths compares this impact to the brilliant wavy patterns seen on the underside of a swimming pool. “Think of the rippled surface of a swimming pool on a sunny day, showing patterns of bright light on the bottom of the pool,” he defined. “These bright patterns on the bottom are caused by a similar kind of effect as gravitational lensing. The ripples on the surface act as partial lenses and focus sunlight into bright squiggly patterns on the bottom.”

In the gravitationally lensed distant galaxy, the ripple is significantly magnifying and distorting the sunshine from the background galaxy that’s passing via the cluster. The ripple acts like an imperfect curvy mirror that generates the twin copies.

The Hubble Space Telescope is deployed on April 25, 1990 from the area shuttle Discovery. Avoiding distortions of the environment, Hubble has an unobstructed view peering to planets, stars and galaxies, some greater than 13.4 billion mild years away. Credit: NASA/Smithsonian Institution/Lockheed Corporation

Solving the thriller

But this uncommon phenomenon wasn’t well-known when Hamilton noticed the unusual linear options in 2013.

As he regarded via the quasar photographs, the snapshot of the mirrored photographs and parallel streaks stood out. Hamilton had by no means seen something prefer it earlier than, and neither had different staff members.

“My first thought was that maybe they were interacting galaxies with tidally stretched-out arms,” Hamilton stated. “It didn’t really fit well, but I didn’t know what else to think.”

So Hamilton and the staff started their quest to unravel the thriller of those tantalizing straight traces, later dubbed Hamilton’s Object for its discoverer. They confirmed the unusual picture to colleagues at astronomy conferences, which elicited a wide range of responses, from cosmic strings to planetary nebulae.

But then Griffiths, who was not a member of the unique staff, provided essentially the most believable rationalization when Hamilton confirmed him the picture at a NASA assembly in 2015. It was a magnified and distorted picture attributable to a lensing phenomenon much like these seen in Hubble photographs of different large galaxy clusters which can be amplifying photographs of very distant galaxies. Griffiths confirmed this concept when he realized of an analogous linear object in certainly one of Hubble’s deep-cluster surveys.

The researchers, nonetheless, nonetheless had an issue. They could not determine the lensing cluster. Normally, astronomers who examine galaxy clusters first see the foreground cluster that is inflicting the lensing, after which discover the magnified photographs of distant galaxies throughout the cluster. A search of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey photographs revealed {that a} galaxy cluster resided in the identical space because the magnified photographs, but it surely didn’t present up in any catalogued survey. Nevertheless, the truth that the unusual photographs have been on the middle of a cluster made it clear to Griffiths that the cluster was producing the lensed photographs.

The researchers’ subsequent step was in figuring out whether or not the three lensed photographs have been on the similar distance, and due to this fact have been all of the distorted portraits of the identical faraway galaxy. Spectroscopic measurements with the Gemini and W. M. Keck observatories in Hawaii helped the researchers make that affirmation, exhibiting that the lensed photographs have been from a galaxy positioned greater than 11 billion light-years away.

The distant galaxy, based mostly on a reconstruction of the third lensed picture, seems to be an edge-on, barred spiral with ongoing, clumpy star formation.

Around the identical time because the spectroscopic observations by Griffiths and undergraduates in Hilo, a separate group of researchers in Chicago recognized the cluster and measured its distance utilizing Sloan information. The cluster resides greater than 7 billion light-years away.

But, with little or no details about the cluster, Griffiths’ staff was nonetheless scuffling with the right way to interpret these uncommon lensing shapes. “This gravitational lens is very different from most of the lenses that were studied before by Hubble, particularly in the Hubble Frontier Fields survey of clusters,” Griffiths defined. “You don’t have to stare at those clusters for long to find many lenses. In this object, this is the only lens we have. And we didn’t even know about the cluster at first.”

Mapping the invisible

That’s when Griffiths known as an skilled on gravitational lensing idea, Jenny Wagner of the University of Heidelberg in Germany. Wagner had studied related objects, and with colleague Nicolas Tessore, now on the University of Manchester in England, developed laptop software program for decoding distinctive lenses like this one. Their software program helped the staff determine how all three lensed photographs got here to be. They concluded that the darkish matter across the stretched photographs needed to be “smoothly” distributed in area at small scales.

“It’s great that we only need two mirror images in order to get the scale of how clumpy or not dark matter can be at these positions,” Wagner stated. “Here, we don’t use any lens models. We just take the observables of the multiple images and the fact they can be transformed into one another. They can be folded into one another by our method. This already gives us an idea of how smooth the dark matter needs to be at these two positions.”

This result’s essential, Griffiths stated, as a result of astronomers nonetheless do not know what darkish matter is, almost a century after its discovery. “We know it’s some form of matter, but we have no idea what the constituent particle is. So we don’t know how it behaves at all. We just know that it has mass and is subject to gravity. The significance of the limits of size on the clumping or smoothness is that it gives us some clues as to what the particle might be. The smaller the dark matter clumps, the more massive the particles must be.”

Image: Hubble views a faraway galaxy via a cosmic lens

More info:
Richard E Griffiths et al, Hamilton’s Object – a clumpy galaxy straddling the gravitational caustic of a galaxy cluster: constraints on darkish matter clumping, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (2021). DOI: 10.1093/mnras/stab1375

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ESA/Hubble Information Centre

‘Double’ galaxy mystifies Hubble astronomers (2021, October 7)
retrieved 9 October 2021

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