Herschel Provides Gravitational Lens Bonanza

The image shows the first area of sky viewed as part of the Herschel-ATLAS survey. The five inset show enlarged views of the five distant galaxies whose images are being gravitationally lensed by foreground galaxies (unseen by Herschel). The distant galaxies are not only very bright, but also very red in colour in this image, showing that they are brighter at the longer wavelengths measured by the SPIRE instrument. Image credits: ESA/SPIRE/Herschel-ATLAS/SJ Maddox (top).

One of the predictions of Einstein’s predictions from general relativity was that gravity could distort space itself and potentially, act as a lens. This was spectacularly confirmed in 1919 when, during a solar eclipse, Arthur Eddington observed stars near the Sun were distorted from their predicted positions. In 1979, this effect was discovered at much further distances when astronomers found it to distort the image of a distant quasar, making one appear as two. Several other such cases have been discovered since then, but these instances of gravitational lensing have proven difficult to find. Searches for them have had a low success rate in which less than 10% of candidates are confirmed as gravitational lenses. But a new method using data from Herschel may help astronomers discover many more of these rare occurrences.

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