NASA has hit the jackpot as Hubble Space Telescope images of the universe’s brightest galaxies have been captured in stunning detail thanks to gravitational lensing technology.
Described as the “jackpot of gravitational lenses,” the Hubble Telescope images show some of the brightest infrared galaxies in the universe. The galaxies, described as being “10,000 times more luminous than our Milky Way,” have been captured using natural magnifying lenses in space.
Scientists say that the six galaxies as they are shown in the Hubble images existed between eight billion and 11.5 billion years ago. According to NASA, the galaxies in the images are unusually shaped due to cosmic collisions between them, creating a myriad of star births. The vague shapes of the background galaxies were said to be caused by distortions on account of powerful gravity from foreground lensing galaxies.
“We have hit the jackpot of gravitational lenses,” said lead researcher James Lowenthal of Smith College in
Northampton, Massachusetts. “These ultra-luminous, massive, starburst galaxies are very rare. Gravitational lensing magnifies them so that you can see small details that otherwise are unimaginable. We can see features as small as about 100 light-years or less across. We want to understand what’s powering these monsters, and gravitational lensing allows us to study them in greater detail.”
Lowenthal presented the Hubble Space Telescope images of the universe’s brightest stars along with the accompanying details at 3:15 p.m. (EDT), on June 6, at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Austin, Texas.
NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope images of the universe’s brightest stars from billions of years ago would prove to be instrumental to astronomers in a lot of ways. For one, scientists can use the data acquired from the images to give them more clues as to the mysterious processes that prompted the formation of stars and galaxies back when the universe was young.
The research team said that there are only a few dozen bright infrared galaxies existing in the universe, and most of them can be found in the denser regions, which are believed to be where most star and galaxy formations occur.
Interpreting the results from the Hubble Space Telescope images can be a little tricky because astronomers are facing the difficult task of discriminating between the foreground lensing galaxies and the ultra-bright galaxies in the background.
“We need to understand the nature and scale of those lensing effects to interpret properly what we’re seeing in the distant, early universe,” Lowenthal said. “This applies not only to these brightest infrared galaxies, but probably to most or maybe even all distant galaxies.”
Researchers have to take into consideration some crucial facts about the early universe that scientists have learned over the years. As established, the universe’s star formation boom peaked over eight billion years ago, giving birth to approximately new stars every year. These cosmic events have produced a huge amount of dust in space, which are difficult to detect using visible light. Thanks to the NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope’s infrared light capabilities, researchers are able to capture images of these galaxies.
“We need to understand the extreme cases, such as these galaxies, as well as the average cases, like our Milky Way, in order to have a complete story about how galaxy and star formation happen,” Lowenthal explained.
According to NASA, the early galaxies are pumping out new stars 5,000 to 10,000 times faster than our own Milky Way. But what baffles scientists is that these galaxies have the same amount of gas as our own. As such, scientists are trying to figure out why ancient galaxies are able to form new stars at such speeds.
“We’ve known for two decades that some of the most luminous galaxies in the universe are very dusty and massive, and they’re undergoing bursts of star formation,” Lowenthal explained.
“But they’ve been very hard to study because the dust makes them practically impossible to observe in visible light.”
“They’re also very rare: they don’t appear in any of Hubble’s deep-field surveys.”
“They are in random parts of the sky that nobody’s looked at before in detail. That’s why finding that they are gravitationally lensed is so important.”
[Featured Image by NASA/Getty Images]