Image: Magnifying the distant universe

April 1, 2014
Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: Nick Rose

(Phys.org) —Galaxy clusters are some of the most massive structures that can be found in the Universe—large groups of galaxies bound together by gravity. This image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope reveals one of these clusters, known as MACS J0454.1-0300. Each of the bright spots seen here is a galaxy, and each is home to many millions, or even billions, of stars.

Astronomers have determined the mass of MACS J0454.1-0300 to be around 180 trillion times the mass of the sun. Clusters like this are so massive that their gravity can even change the behavior of space around them, bending the path of light as it travels through them, sometimes amplifying it and acting like a cosmic magnifying glass. Thanks to this effect, it is possible to see objects that are so far away from us that they would otherwise be too faint to be detected.

In this case, several objects appear to be dramatically elongated and are seen as sweeping arcs to the left of this image. These are galaxies located at vast distances behind the cluster—their image has been amplified, but also distorted, as their light passes through MACS J0454.1-0300. This process, known as , is an extremely valuable tool for astronomers as they peer at very distant objects.

This effect will be put to good use with the start of Hubble's Frontier Fields program over the next few years, which aims to explore very distant objects located behind lensing clusters, similar to MACS J0454.1-0300, to investigate how formed and evolved in the early Universe.

Explore further: Hubble survey carries out a dark matter census

Related Stories

Hubble survey carries out a dark matter census

October 13, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has been used to make an image of galaxy cluster MACS J1206.2-0847. The apparently distorted shapes of distant galaxies in the background is caused by an invisible substance ...

A space-time magnifying glass

May 15, 2013

(Phys.org) —Bright arcs are smeared around the heart of galaxy cluster Abell S1077 in this image taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble space telescope. The arcs are stretched images of distant galaxies distorted by the cluster's ...

Image: Gravitational lensing in galaxy YGKOW G1

January 27, 2014

(Phys.org) —In this new Hubble image two objects are clearly visible, shining brightly. When they were first discovered in 1979, they were thought to be separate objects—however, astronomers soon realized that these twins ...

Looking back to the cradle of our universe

February 10, 2014

(Phys.org) —NASA's Spitzer and Hubble Space Telescopes have spotted what might be one of the most distant galaxies known, harkening back to a time when our universe was only about 650 million years old (our universe is ...

Recommended for you

Distant planet's interior chemistry may differ from our own

September 1, 2015

As astronomers continue finding new rocky planets around distant stars, high-pressure physicists are considering what the interiors of those planets might be like and how their chemistry could differ from that found on Earth. ...

New Horizons team selects potential Kuiper Belt flyby target

August 29, 2015

NASA has selected the potential next destination for the New Horizons mission to visit after its historic July 14 flyby of the Pluto system. The destination is a small Kuiper Belt object (KBO) known as 2014 MU69 that orbits ...

Interstellar seeds could create oases of life

August 27, 2015

We only have one example of a planet with life: Earth. But within the next generation, it should become possible to detect signs of life on planets orbiting distant stars. If we find alien life, new questions will arise. ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.