spitzer Robotic News
June 26, 2012 16:24:55
Astronomers Spot Rare Arc From Hefty Galaxy Cluster
By Source: NASA JPL

PASADENA, Calif. -- Seeing is believing, except when you don't believe what you see. Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have found a puzzling arc of light behind an extremely massive cluster of galaxies residing 10 billion light-years away. The galactic grouping, discovered by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, was observed as it existed when the universe was roughly a quarter of its current age of 13.7 billion years.

The giant arc is the stretched shape of a more distant galaxy whose light is distorted by the monster cluster's powerful gravity, an effect called gravitational lensing. The trouble is, the arc shouldn't exist.

"When I first saw it, I kept staring at it, thinking it would go away," said study leader Anthony Gonzalez of the University of Florida in Gainesville, whose team includes researchers from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "According to a statistical analysis, arcs should be extremely rare at that distance. At that early epoch, the expectation is that there are not enough galaxies behind the cluster bright enough to be seen, even if they were 'lensed,' or distorted by the cluster. The other problem is that galaxy clusters become less massive the further back in time you go. So it's more difficult to find a cluster with enough mass to be a good lens for gravitationally bending the light from a distant galaxy."

Galaxy clusters are collections of hundreds to thousands of galaxies bound together by gravity. They are the most massive structures in our universe. Astronomers frequently study galaxy clusters to look for faraway, magnified galaxies behind them that would otherwise be too dim to see with telescopes. Many such gravitationally lensed galaxies have been found behind galaxy clusters closer to Earth.

The surprise in this Hubble observation is spotting a galaxy lensed by an extremely distant cluster. Dubbed IDCS J1426.5+3508, the cluster is the most massive found at that epoch, weighing as much as 500 trillion suns. It is 5 to 10 times larger than other clusters found at such an early time in the history of the universe. The team spotted the cluster in a search using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope in combination with archival optical images taken as part of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory's Deep Wide Field Survey at the Kitt Peak National Observatory, Tucson, Ariz. The combined images allowed them to see the cluster as a grouping of very red galaxies, indicating they are far away.

This unique system constitutes the most distant cluster known to "host" a giant gravitationally lensed arc. Finding this ancient gravitational arc may yield insight into how, during the first moments after the Big Bang, conditions were set up for the growth of hefty clusters in the early universe.

The arc was spotted in optical images of the cluster taken in 2010 by Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys. The infrared capabilities of Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 helped provide a precise distance, confirming it to be one of the farthest clusters yet discovered.

Once the astronomers determined the cluster's distance, they used Hubble, the Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-wave Astronomy (CARMA) radio telescope, and NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory to independently show that the galactic grouping is extremely massive.

"The chance of finding such a gigantic cluster so early in the universe was less than one percent in the small area we surveyed," said team member Mark Brodwin of the University of Missouri-Kansas City. "It shares an evolutionary path with some of the most massive clusters we see today, including the Coma cluster and the recently discovered El Gordo cluster."

An analysis of the arc revealed that the lensed object is a star-forming galaxy that existed 10 billion to 13 billion years ago. The team hopes to use Hubble again to obtain a more accurate distance to the lensed galaxy.

These images, taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, show an arc of blue light behind an extremely massive cluster of galaxies residing 10 billion light-years away.

The giant arc is the stretched shape of a more distant star-forming galaxy whose light is distorted by the monster cluster's powerful gravity, an effect called gravitational lensing. The "lensed" galaxy existed 10 billion to 13 billion years ago.

The arc, located within the small box, is barely visible in the Hubble image of the cluster, named IDCS J1426.5+3508. A close-up image of the arc is shown in the inset. The images were taken by Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys and Wide Field Camera 3 in 2010.

The cluster is the most massive found at that epoch, weighing as much as 500 trillion suns. The assemblage is 5 to 10 times larger than other clusters found at such an early time in the universe's history. This unique system constitutes the most distant cluster known to "host" a giant gravitationally lensed arc.

Image credit: NASA/ESA/University of Florida, Gainsville/University of Missouri-Kansas City/UC Davis



The team's results are described in three papers, which will appear online today and will be published in the July 10, 2012 issue of The Astrophysical Journal. Gonzalez is the first author on one of the papers; Brodwin, on another; and Adam Stanford of the University of California at Davis, on the third. Daniel Stern and Peter Eisenhardt of JPL are co-authors on all three papers.

JPL manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

More Interactive Photography
Gale Crator InterActive First look crisp look around Gale Crator This 360-degree, full-resolution panorama from NASA's Curiosity rover shows the area all around...
Endeavour nose gear in OPF InterActive Endeavour nose gear in OPF This was shot from forward and underneath Space Shuttle Endeavour in the Orbiter Processing...
Endeavor engine compartment InterActive Endeavor engine compartment View into the Space Shuttle's engine compartment with the three main engines removed.
Endeavor engine compartment InterActive Endeavor engine compartment View into the Space Shuttle's engine compartment with the three main engines removed.
Endeavour Cargo Bay InterActive Endeavour Cargo Bay This image was shot from the forward end of Space Shuttle Endeavour's cargo ba as it sits in...
Interior view of the Space Shuttle Endeavour forward flight deck. InterActive Interior view of the Space Shuttle Endeavour forward flight deck. Interior view of the Space Shuttle Endeavour aft flight deck.
Endeavour Forward Flight Deck InterActive Endeavour Forward Flight Deck Interior view of the Space Shuttle Endeavour forward flight deck.
Atlas V with Mars Science Laboratory payload InterActive Atlas V with Mars Science Laboratory payload The rover Curiosity will carry the biggest, most advanced suite of instruments for scientific...
Curiosity rover InterActive Curiosity rover NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, a mobile robot for investigating Mars' past or...
Curiosity rover InterActive Curiosity rover NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, a mobile robot for investigating Mars' past or...
Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory InterActive GRAIL The Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory mission's primary science objectives will be to...
Atlas V AV-029 InterActive Atlas V AV-029 ULA Atlas V number AV-029 reaches launch pad on August 4th, 2011. In less than 1 day this Atlas...
Atlas V up close InterActive Atlas V up close Get to know the Atlas V up close. Explore the rivets in this 74.62 megapixel image of the Atlas...
JUNO Atlas V InterActive JUNO Atlas V ULA Atlas V with the JUNO probe sitting atop at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station is ready for...
Atlantis at wheels stop on runway 15 InterActive Atlantis on runway Space Shuttle Atlantis returned to Earth in the predawn hours of July 21st, 2011. Marking the...
Atlantis at wheels stop on runway 15 InterActive Atlantis at wheels stop on runway 15 Space Shuttle Atlantis returned to Earth in the predawn hours of July 21st, 2011. Marking the...
Atlantis and tower InterActive Atlantis and tower Space shuttle Atlantis waits to receive payload for the final space shuttle mission STS-135,...
Atlantis payload preparations InterActive Atlantis payload preparations Space shuttle Atlantis at pad 39A. The payload canister can be seen lifted in to position to...
Walk with the astronauts InterActive Walk with the astronauts A view of the 195ft level of the fixed service structure. This where the astronauts arrive at...
Last Space Shuttle prepares for launch InterActive Last Space Shuttle prepares for launch A close in look at space shuttle Atlantis on June 17th. Launch preparations are on going for...
The last space shuttle to be on the launch pad InterActive The last space shuttle to be on the launch pad Space shuttle Atlantis, the last space shuttle to flight begins launch prepartions at pad 39A...
Last space shuttle arrives at launch pad InterActive Last space shuttle arrives at launch pad Space shuttle Atlantis is seen here from the top of the rotating service structure the moring...
The last space shuttle has left the building InterActive The last space shuttle has left the building Space shuttle Atlantis rolls out of the Vehicle Assembly Building for the last time on the...
Space Shuttle Atlantis prepared to rollout to pad   InterActive Space Shuttle Atlantis prepared to rollout to pad Space shuttle Atlantis complete with the solid rocket boosters and external tank that will...
HiRes Atlantis hanging in VAB InterActive HiRes Atlantis hanging in VAB HiRes image of Space Shuttle Atlantis hanging in the Vehical Assembly Building. This shot was...
Atlantis vertical from VAB Level 5 InterActive Atlantis vertical from VAB Level 5 Space Shuttle Atlantis after being lifted into the verticle position before being mated to the...
Atlantis vertical InterActive Atlantis vertical Space Shuttle Atlantis hangs vertical before removing the rear hoist and lifting it for the...
Atlantis rolling vertical InterActive Atlantis rolling vertical Here Space Shuttle Atlantis is almost vertical being positioned to soon be mated to the...
Atlantis hanging in VAB InterActive Atlantis hanging in VAB Space Shuttle Atlantis is seen here hanging about 10 feet above the VAB floor. It has justed...
Endeavour at night InterActive Endeavour at night Space shuttle Endeavour seen here at night as launch preparation continue for the first launch...
Atlantis rolling over to VAB for final mission InterActive Atlantis rolling over to VAB for final mission Space Shuttle Atlantis rolling over the VAB for the last time. Atlantis is scheduled to be the...
Atlantis outside VAB for employee photos InterActive Atlantis outside VAB for employee photos Space shuttle Atlantis, the last space shuttle, pauses during rollover from the OPF to the VAB...
Hi Resolution image of the last space shuttle InterActive Hi Resolution image of the last space shuttle Hi Resolution composit image of the last space shuttle, Atlantis, as it sits atop the transport...
Atlantis in the VAB InterActive Atlantis in the VAB Nice 360 degree view of the VAB with Atlantis being preped for the Lift and Mate procedure
Atlantis on the sled in VAB InterActive Atlantis on the sled in VAB Explore the VAB with Space Shuttle Atlantis on the sled after rollover to the VAB jst before...
Atlantis being attached to sling InterActive Atlantis being attached to sling Full 360 degree panorama from inside the VAB as Space Shuttle Atlantis is attached to the sling...
Endeavour after RSS retraction InterActive Endeavour after RSS retraction Hi-Res image of Space Shuttle Endeavour on the launch pad 39A minutes after the RSS was...
The Mound STS-134 4/29 Attempt InterActive The Mound STS-134 4/29 Attempt This a 360 degree panorama from the mound of the KSC media center. This was the scence about an...
Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) InterActive Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-2, a particle physics detector designed to search for various...
AMS in the SSPF InterActive AMS in the SSPF The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-2, a particle physics detector designed to search for various...
Here is Space Shuttle Endeavour just after sunrise InterActive Here is Space Shuttle Endeavour just after sunrise Here is Space Shuttle Endeavour just after sunrise the morning it arrived from the VAB. How...
Endeavour in the VAB InterActive Endeavour in the VAB Space Shuttle Endeavour sitting stacked and ready atop the crawler to rollout the launch pad.
Endeavour in the VAB InterActive Endeavour in the VAB Space Shuttle Endeavour sitting stacked and ready atop the crawler to rollout the launch pad.
Space Shuttle Discovery final towover InterActive Space Shuttle Discovery final towover View of Space Shuttle Discovery 4 hours after returning to Earth for the last time. Discovery...
Space Shuttle Discovery Final Launch InterActive Space Shuttle Discovery Final Launch This a 360 degree panorama taken 3 mile from the launch pad capturing the final lift off of...
Space shuttle Discovery final launch InterActive Space shuttle Discovery final launch This a 360 degree panorama taken 3 mile from the launch pad capturing the final lift off of...
Discovery at Night InterActive Discovery at Night This a panorama of Space Shuttle Discovery shortly after RSS retraction on 11/3/2010 preparing...
GRIP DC-8 Panorama InterActive GRIP DC-8 Panorama Interior of forward section of NASA GRIP aircraft while configured for studding hurricane...
GRIP DC-8 Interior InterActive GRIP DC-8 Interior Interior of forward section of NASA GRIP aircraft while configured for studding hurricane...
NASA GRIP DC-8 InterActive NASA GRIP DC-8 The NASA DC-8 is a four-engine jet transport that has been highly modified to support the...
Endeavour on pad InterActive Endeavour ready for launch HiRes image of Endeavour at Pad 39A
AMS-2 Antimatter Telescope InterActive AMS-2 Antimatter Telescope Explore the SSPF and ESA's Antimatter Telescope. 360 rotating,zoomable Panorama!
Spectacular ultra hi-rez interactive shot of the Space Shuttle Endeavour on the launch pad for the last time InterActive Explore LC-39A !! Spectacular ultra hi-rez interactive shot of the Space Shuttle Endeavour on the launch pad for...