Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Galactic Magnifying Lens

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Galactic Magnifying Lens

Article excerpt

A team of astronomers has used a massive galaxy cluster as a cosmic magnifying lens to study the nature of dark energy for the first time. When combined with existing techniques, their results significantly improve current measurements of the mass and energy content of the universe. The findings are published in Science.

Astronomers employ a number of methods to study the geometry of the universe, which tells us something about the nature of dark energy--a mysterious force discovered in 1998 that speeds up the expansion of the universe, but about which little else is known. Uncovering the nature of dark energy, which makes up about 72% of all mass and energy in the universe and will ultimately determine its fate, is one of the Holy Grails of modern-day cosmology.

Now an international team including Yale University Cosmologist Priyamvada Natarajan has used gravitational lensing to learn more about this elusive force. Using data taken by the Hubble Space Telescope and ground-based telescopes, the team analyzed images of 34 extremely distant galaxies situated behind Abell 1689, one of the biggest and most massive known galaxy clusters in the universe.

Through the gravitational "lens" of Abell 1689, astronomers were able to detect the faint, distant background galaxies--whose light was bent and projected by the cluster's massive gravitational pull--in a similar way that the lens of a magnifying lens distorts an object's image. …

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