James Webb

Bend it like Einstein: Astronomers turn galaxies into magnifiers

New technique helps NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope

Astronomers have turned a cluster of galaxies into a gargantuan magnifying lens, using it to study another galaxy, 10.7 billion light years away, in unprecedented detail.

Taking advantage of a phenomenon known as “gravitational lensing”, the team of scientists, led by NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre scientist Dr Soniya Sharma, identified star forming regions in the distant and ancient galaxy.

The research was funded by Australia’s ARC Centre of Excellence in All Sky Astrophysics in 3 Dimensions (ASTRO 3D), and will be of direct benefit to NASA’s next orbiting observer.

Without the use of the massive magnifying effect, the galaxy, dubbed cswa128, would be a tiny blur to even the most powerful telescopes on Earth. With it, the astronomers can see stars being formed just three billion years after the Big Bang.

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Blinded by the light no more: simulations show NASA’s James Webb Telescope will reveal hidden galaxies

Australian researchers find ways to overcome the blinding glare of quasars

The telescope, due to launch in late 2021, is the largest, most powerful and complex space telescope ever built.

Two new studies led by Madeline Marshall from Australia’s University of Melbourne and the ARC Centre of Excellence in All Sky Astrophysics in 3 Dimensions (ASTRO 3D) find that the Webb will be able to reveal galaxies currently masked by powerful lights called quasars.

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