Through a natural magnifying glass, astronomers have obtained images 10 times sharper than what Hubble Telescope could achieve on its own.
The results show an edge-on disk galaxy studded with brilliant patches of newly formed stars.
Hubble Telescope brought images that reveal star-forming knots of newborn stars only 200 to 300 light-years across, in a galaxy that formed only 2.7 billion years after the Big Bang. Previous theories suggested that star-forming regions in the early universe were much larger — at least 3,000 light-years across.
“When we saw the reconstructed image we said, ‘Wow, it looks like fireworks are going off everywhere’,” said astronomer Jane Rigby of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
It is one of more than 70 strongly lensed galaxies studied by the Hubble space telescope, following up targets selected by the Sloan Giant Arcs Survey, which discovered hundreds of strongly lensed galaxies by searching Sloan Digital Sky Survey imaging data covering one-fourth of the sky.
Astronomers gave Hubble a boost, pairing the instrument with a gravitational lens, a massive structure in space that bends and distorts light to allow glimpses at greater distances.
Gravitational lenses can be any type of object, from a single massive galaxy to an entire cluster. As light from the more distant galaxy passes the massive object, it is bent and distorted into an arc. For the newfound cluster, this magnified the object almost 30 times. Scientists had to develop a special computer code to remove the distortions and reveal the galaxy as it would normally appear.
The team had to develop special computer code to remove the distortions caused by the gravitational lens, and reveal the disk galaxy as it would normally appear.
“When we saw the reconstructed image, we said, ‘Wow, it looks like fireworks are going off everywhere,'” said Jane Rigby, an astronomer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and lead author of the third paper.