Sitting about 9.7 billion light-years from Earth lies a (very) hefty galaxy cluster with a mass equivalent to something like 3 million billion suns. It's a cosmic clump lovingly nicknamed El Gordo, which translates from Spanish to "The Fat One." Over the years, the Hubble Space Telescope has blessed us with some mesmerizing views of El Gordo — but now, there's a new space observatory in town.
On Wednesday (Aug. 2), scientists announced the James Webb Space Telescope has offered us a pretty mind-bending new perspective on El Gordo. With its infrared eyes, the trailblazing machine has revealed gravitationally distorted realms, a red giant star and tons of other space goodies Hubble could only hint at.
One subject, for instance, is known as "El Anzuelo," or "The Fishhook." Located 10.6 billion light-years away, this galaxy can be clearly seen toward the top right of the image as a bright red arc. To put into perspective how trippy this new photo is, you're seeing El Anzuelo as it was 10.6 billion years ago. This is because it took that long for light from this point in the galaxy's life to reach the JWST.
"We were able to carefully dissect the shroud of dust that envelops the galaxy center where stars are actively forming," Patrick Kamieneski of Arizona State University and lead author on one of several papers about these JWST observations, said in a statement. "With Webb, we can peer through this thick curtain of dust with ease, allowing us to see firsthand the assembly of galaxies from the inside out."
But beyond the fact that the JWST is able to parse through dust veils, thanks to its infrared capabilities, this telescope's new lens on El Gordo is crucial because of how distinctly it can capture a phenomenon called gravitational lensing.
In short, gravitational lensing is a concept associated with Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity. This theory basically imagines space and time as woven together like a tangible fabric — a 4D sheet of silk that can warp and ripple depending on what masses are present within. Black holes warp this fabric a lot, stars affect it quite a bit, Earth warps it somewhat and even you and me warp it an incredibly tiny, indiscernible amount.
What's important for this JWST image, however, is that general relativity theory also predicts that those spacetime fabric warps impact the way light moves across the universe. At risk of simplification, the warps can force light to bend and twist while traveling through space — but this is a good thing for astronomers. If scientists can focus their observatories (like the JWST) on super-duper warped areas (like a hefty galaxy cluster), they can catch some of that warped light. And depending on where the light's coming from, those warps can create a sort of magnifying effect on the source. That effect is called gravitational lensing.
Returning to our image, the main reason we can see El Anzuelo at all, despite it living so immensely far away, is due to none other than gravitational lensing! And thanks to the spectacular concept, scientists realized the distant galaxy is disk-shaped, about 26,000 light-years in diameter (one-fourth the size of the Milky Way), in addition to dissecting other interesting information about its history.
Furthermore, the reddish tint you see in El Anzuelo has to do with another cosmic light phenomenon. Basically, as stuff gets farther and farther away from our vantage point on Earth — in conjunction with the universe's expansion — the lightwaves they emit stretch out like unbreakable rubber bands. As that happens, those waves appear redder and redder due to a phenomenon known as redshift.
So as this galaxy is looking quite red, it's quite far.
Underneath Einstein's magnifying glass
Because of how much gravitational lensing is apparent in this image – you can tell based on the fact that a bunch of glittering galaxies look like smudges rather than spirals and ellipticals we expect — there's a wealth of cosmic information to glean from it.
In fact, the JWST's very first image was also filled with a slew of gravitationally lensed galaxies, rightfully earning heaps of praise from space enthusiasts across the globe.
"This lensing effect provides a unique window into the distant universe," Brenda Frye of the University of Arizona, co-lead of the PEARLS-Clusters branch of the Prime Extragalactic Areas for Reionization and Lensing Science (PEARLS) team and lead author of another paper, said in the statement.
"Gravitational lensing was predicted by Albert Einstein more than 100 years ago. In the El Gordo cluster, we see the power of gravitational lensing in action," Rogier Windhorst of Arizona State University and principal investigator of the PEARLS program, said in the statement. "The PEARLS images of El Gordo are out-of-this-world beautiful. And, they have shown us how Webb can unlock Einstein's treasure chest."
Straying away from major galaxies, the JWST portrait of El Gordo also amazingly caught sight of a singular red giant star. Scientists nicknamed it Quyllur, which translates from the indigenous Quechua language of the Peruvian highlands to simply "star."
The amazing part? This marks the first individual red giant star observed by the JWST that's more than 1 billion light-years from Earth. Quyllur is actually located somewhere around 11 billion light-years away from us, near a galaxy known as La Flaca, or "The Thin One." La Flaca can be seen as a pencil-like line at the left-center of the image.
"It's almost impossible to see lensed red giant stars unless you go into the infrared. This is the first one we’ve found with Webb, but we expect there will be many more to come," Jose Diego of the Instituto de Física de Cantabria in Spain, lead author of another paper on El Gordo, said in the statement.
Frye and her team also point out five lensed galaxies that seem to be part of a baby cluster about 12.1 billion light-years from Earth – possibly holding a total of 17 galactic members. There are also some ultra-diffuse galaxies that appear present some 7.2 billion light-years away, which are similar to normal galaxies except their stars are much more spread out.
"We examined whether the properties of these galaxies are any different than the ultra-diffuse galaxies we see in the local universe, and we do actually see some differences. In particular, they are bluer, younger, more extended, and more evenly distributed throughout the cluster." Timothy Carleton of Arizona State University, lead author on another paper about these observations, said in the statement. "This suggests that living in the cluster environment for the past 6 billion years has had a significant effect on these galaxies."
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Monisha Ravisetti is Space.com's Astronomy Editor. She covers black holes, star explosions, gravitational waves, exoplanet discoveries and other enigmas hidden across the fabric of space and time. Previously, she was a science writer at CNET, and before that, reported for The Academic Times. Prior to becoming a writer, she was an immunology researcher at Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York. She graduated from New York University in 2018 with a B.A. in philosophy, physics and chemistry. She spends too much time playing online chess. Her favorite planet is Earth.
What are the diameters of those swirl smudges? Those galaxies. If that line is at same distance, it would seem to me that the line is the largest and strangest cosmic object I've ever seen. That would be a huge size and distance.....to remain straight, or come straight.Reply
Unless it's an instrument and or processing error. Perhaps an alignment of instrument structure orientation?
The article says that straight line is a galaxy: "La Flaca", "The thin one".Reply
It is an edge on galaxy, probably gravitationally distorted to appear even longer.
Let's flip all the little smudges to their edge. Little lines. How many little lines would it take to match that large line length?Reply
And if as you suggest, that large line is an edge, then imagine the amount of mass and volume of that galaxy. And for me, it's strange that one large one like that would cluster with a bunch of small ones. And as I hinted at before, imagine the g flux within the cluster. And the number of collisions it must have had in the past. I would also think that any galaxy that has had many collisions.....would have warped disk shaped edge. A horizontal s of some nature. Not a line. Especially a large galaxy.
I'm just spitballing. I am not an astronomer.
All the g lens I've seen has been an arc.
Yes, it is very unusual but scientists consider it to be a lensed, edge on galaxy.Reply
"Another prominent feature in the Webb image is a long, pencil-thin line at left of center. Known as "La Flaca" (the Thin One), it is another lensed background galaxy whose light also took nearly 11 billion years to reach Earth."
Classical Motion said:What are the diameters of those swirl smudges? Those galaxies. If that line is at same distance, it would seem to me that the line is the largest and strangest cosmic object I've ever seen. That would be a huge size and distance.....to remain straight, or come straight.
Unless it's an instrument and or processing error. Perhaps an alignment of instrument structure orientation?
You cannot take what you see from the image at face value. First of all, you are looking through billions of years of space-time, layered on top of each other. Secondly, due to the amount of gravity that these galaxies and galaxy clusters have, objects behind them become extremely distorted due to gravitational lensing.
So, if that's the case.........how can any measurements be made? Or have any meaning?Reply
Classical Motion said:So, if that's the case.........how can any measurements be made? Or have any meaning?
I believe they use techniques like doppler shift and others to determine the distance and hence the size. Someone can probably answer your original question but not me. I was just trying to give you some context.
I get this all the time. I ask a SIMPLE question and the response is.....that I am asking the wrong question...........so they answer a question that I did not ask. They only answer with a prepared and rehearsed answer .......of only certain questions. If your question is not on the list, you are directed to a question that is on the answer list. Some say a word map is needed.Reply
It's all prepared and choreograph. And distractions are quickly dealt with.
My simple questions prove my total ignorance of the matter. In other words my questions have no merit. Because I am unable to comprehend spacetime.
But if I just blindly agree, then some how, I understand spacetime. I'm in. I don't believe anybody understands spacetime....most assuredly the ones that claim they do. For many can not resist a fairy tail. Some need magic. Many intellects require magic. The invisible, unknowable force behind all things. A secret.
This whole concept is very lacking for me. I find no confidence in it. It's so phony.
I believe light can be explained with mechanics. A mechanical dynamic. With omnipresent time and length. c squared is NOT a math term, it's a mechanical term. It's a perpendicular acceleration. Two c accelerations in a square(perpendicular) configuration. The result is a closed helical structure. A particle. This is how energy is confined. And confined energy IS mass. And only one structure can confine it......is a particle structure that has been called charge. Charge is a structure and energy and mass are ratio-d by it. A c squared structure.
The concept of local time and local space is not needed. So I don't use it.
The ONLY way, the only condition, for redshift to occur due to velocity......is if WE are moving at a severely high velocity. Not the emitter. Emitter V does not effect shift, only the detector V can cause red shift. Light is not a wave and does not behave like sound. With sound and waves.....the emitter and the detector can be inverted, and you get the same shift. But you can not do this with light. Light shift is a one way shift. Emitter V can only effect phase. Detector V effects both phase and frequency. Do our scientists of today truly understand the difference in phase shift and frequency shift? They do NOT, if they are using a symmetrical wave concept.
Before all the screaming starts......A reflection...is a totally different dynamic than emission is. Don't use it for comparison. Or for counter argument. A reflection takes time, an emission does not. A detection takes time, an emission does not. Severely asymmetric comparison. All light shifts with a moving reflection. Both up and down. Reflection is not equal to emission. Totally different.
Emission is an instant dynamic, and no one knows it.
Gravity can shift the frequency of an emitter. And when we can sample light, like we can sample radio, we will be able to not only tell what the g force is at the emitter, but be able to measure the relative v of emitter....and the relative v of detector.......independently. But when we sample, the first thing we will notice is, that light is not a wave, it's a series of discrete strobes. Hammers. And when they strike matter....the matter rings and vibrates.......leading many to think that light is a wave vibration too. But it is not. It's a series of stiff hammers. Blows. Strobes. All EM blinks. It's discrete and intermittent. The length or duration of that hammer does NOT change with emitter v. Only the dead space between those hammers change, with emitter v. The phase of the hammer changes, not the length or strength. However, upon detection, both the phase AND the frequency is changed with detector v. It's not reversible, invertible and symmetric. Like a train whistle and a station.
We will plot and measure the mass, the gravity, and the relative V of all EM emitters, just from the measurement of light.
But not with spacetime. You need a mechanic.