Starts With A Bang

The strongest gravitational show in the Universe (Synopsis)

Six examples of the strong gravitational lenses the Hubble Space Telescope discovered and imaged. Image credit: NASA, ESA, C. Faure (Zentrum für Astronomie, University of Heidelberg) and J.P. Kneib (Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Marseille).

“The first amazing fact about gravitation is that the ratio of inertial mass to gravitational mass is constant wherever we have checked it. The second amazing thing about gravitation is how weak it is.” -Richard Feynman

One of the strangest, most novel predictions of Einstein’s relativity is that mass would not only curve space, but that the curved space would act like a lens. Background light traveling past this mass would become magnified, distorted and stretched. In some cases, arc, multiple images or even perfect, 360º rings would occur.

This image illustrates a gravitational lensing effect. Image credit: NASA, ESA, and Johan Richard (Caltech, USA); Acknowledgements: Davide de Martin & James Long (ESA/Hubble).

Although this gravitational lensing phenomenon was theoretically predicted shortly after it was proposed, it was only in 1937 that Fritz Zwicky realized that a galaxy cluster could cause this phenomenon. 42 years later, 1979’s discovery of the Twin QSO validated this picture, and hundreds of other instances of lensing have been found since.

The Twin Quasar QSO 0957+561, as gravitationally lensed by the enormous elliptical galaxy, YGKOW G1, four billion light years away. This was the first gravitational lens ever discovered, in 1979. Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA.

Come see some amazing views of the strongest gravitational show the Universe has to offer!