NASA's Hubble spots clumps of new stars in lensed galaxy

By applying a new computational analysis to a galaxy magnified by a gravitational lens, astronomers have obtained images 10 times sharper than what Hubble could achieve on its own.

By Zee Media Bureau | Last Updated: Jul 07, 2017, 09:08 AM IST
NASA's Hubble spots clumps of new stars in lensed galaxy
Image credits: NASA, ESA, and T. Johnson (University of Michigan)

New Delhi: NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has revealed an edge-on disk galaxy studded with brilliant patches of newly formed stars using the magic of gravitational lensing.

By applying a new computational analysis to a galaxy magnified by a gravitational lens, astronomers have obtained images 10 times sharper than what Hubble could achieve on its own.

Astronomers had to develop special computer code to remove the distortions caused by the gravitational lens, and reveal the disk galaxy as it would normally appear.

The resulting reconstructed image revealed two dozen clumps of newborn stars, each spanning about 200 to 300 light-years. This contradicted theories suggesting that star-forming regions in the distant, early universe were much larger, 3,000 light-years or more in size.

"When we saw the reconstructed image we said, 'Wow, it looks like fireworks are going off everywhere,'" said astronomer Jane Rigby of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

The galaxy in question is so far away that we see it as it appeared 11 billion years ago, only 2.7 billion years after the big bang.

According to Traci Johnson, doctoral student of the University of Michigan, and lead author of two of the three papers describing the research, without the magnification boost of the gravitational lens, the disk galaxy would appear perfectly smooth and unremarkable to Hubble. And this would give astronomers a very different picture of where stars are forming.

While Hubble highlighted new stars within the lensed galaxy, NASA says the James Webb Space Telescope will uncover older, redder stars that formed even earlier in the galaxy's history. It will also peer through any obscuring dust within the galaxy.

The findings appear in a paper published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters and two additional papers published in The Astrophysical Journal.