The theory of general relativity states that objects and their gravitational pull distort the spacetime around them. The phenomenon explains the gravitational lens effect, the bending of light in a lens-like shape around large galaxies and cosmic structures.
Recently, astronomers used the MUSE instrument on the Very Large Telescope to analyze the movement of stars within ESO 325-G004 to estimate the galaxy’s mass. Astronomers then used high-definition images collected by the Hubble Space Telescope to measure the lensing ring around the galaxy. Their measurements revealed how light — and thus, spacetime — are being distorted by the galaxy’s mass.
When astronomers refer to lensing, they are talking about an effect called gravitational lensing. Normal lenses such as the ones in a magnifying glass or a pair of spectacles work by bending light rays that pass through them in a process known as refraction, in order to focus the light somewhere (such as in your eye).
Gravitational lensing works in an analogous way and is an effect of Einstein’s theory of general relativity – simply put, mass bends light. The gravitational field of a massive object will extend far into space, and cause light rays passing close to that object (and thus through its gravitational field) to be bent and refocused somewhere else. The more massive the object, the stronger its gravitational field and hence the greater the bending of light rays – just like using denser materials to make optical lenses results in a greater amount of refraction.
“It is so satisfying to use the best telescopes in the world to challenge Einstein, only to find out how right he was,” said researcher Bob Nichol.
The Very Large Telescope has also recently achieved first light using its new optics technique called laser tomography. Astronomers with the European Southern Observatory used the new technology to capture remarkably sharp test images of the planet Neptune, star clusters and other objects in an unprecedented detail.
The new adaptive optics mode accounts and corrects for the turbulence in different layers of Earth’s atmosphere. With the new corrective technology, VLT’s Unit Telescope 4 will be able to produce images comparable in sharpness to those of the Hubble Space Telescope.
It will enable astronomers to study in unprecedented detail fascinating objects such as supermassive black holes at the centers of distant galaxies, jets from young stars, globular clusters, supernovae, planets and their satellites in the Solar System and much more.
These two recent findings with The Very Large Telescope proves how important it is to craft and design precision lenses capable of capturing the clearest images of our Galaxy and the further reaches of the Universe. Having the lens to deliver sharp, high-definition images from space is where Universe Optics comes in. Our designers and manufactures are committed to deliver the accuracy you’ve come to expect from us, enabling your telescope to bring to earth the images you expect.