The Frontier Fields images, while beautiful, aren’t all that easy to comprehend to eyes outside the astronomy community. Look at them and you see streaks of light and blurry smudges mixed into a field of obvious galaxies. It can be difficult to interpret the distortions that occur as light from distant galaxies becomes magnified and bent by the vast mass of the Frontier Fields’ galactic clusters.
So here’s an interesting thought experiment. What if we could take a well-known galaxy and put it behind one of our Frontier Fields galaxy clusters? What would that look like?
Thanks to Dr. Rachael Livermore of the University of Texas at Austin and Dr. Frank Summers of the Space Telescope Science Institute, you can see for yourself. In this video simulation, the Whirlpool Galaxy, also known as M51, sweeps behind the Frontier Fields galaxy cluster Abell 2744. As it moves, the gravity of the galaxy cluster distorts the light of the Whirlpool, warping and magnifying and even multiplying its image.
Obviously, this isn’t a realistic video — galaxies don’t just take jaunts through the cosmos. But it illustrates how our image of the Whirlpool would change depending on where it was placed behind the ...