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The Sunburst Arc: A quirk of gravity reveals how the infant Universe lit up

18 Nov 2019, 14:00 UTC
The Sunburst Arc: A quirk of gravity reveals how the infant Universe lit up
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It’s difficult to describe the immensity of galaxy clusters; they are among the biggest coherent structures in the Universe (what’s bigger? Superclusters, which are clusters of clusters!). Imagine a collection of, oh, say, a thousand galaxies the size of the Milky Way. The sky inside one must be incredible! So many galaxies you could see with your naked eye…

From Earth we see them from far away, though, and study them avidly. They tell us a lot about the Universe on its grandest scales, and sometimes they also tell us about what it was like when it was young. That’s due to gravitational lensing, a peculiar effect of relativity where the overall gravity of the cluster bends the light of an even more distant galaxy behind it, distorting it and making it brighter.

We’ve seen this many times before, but a recent discovery is very cool: The brightest lensed galaxy ever seen, bent into four different arcs, for a total of twelve separate images of the same galaxy!

A cluster of galaxies 4.6 billion light years away acts like a lens, distorting, magnifying, and multiply replicating an image of a more distant galaxy 11 bilion light years away into a ...

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