Channeling Einstein, researchers leverage gravitational lensing by using sophisticated software to find hidden black holes in ways not thought possible until now.
What's large and blue and can wrap itself around an entire galaxy? A gravitational lens mirage. Pictured above, the gravity of a luminous red galaxy (LRG) has gravitationally distorted the light from a much more distant blue galaxy. More typically, such light bending results in two discernible images of the distant galaxy, but here the lens alignment is so precise that the background galaxy is distorted into a horseshoe -- a nearly complete ring. Since such a lensing effect was generally predicted in some detail by Albert Einstein over 70 years ago, rings like this are now known as Einstein Rings. Although LRG 3-757 was discovered in 2007 in data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), the image shown above is a follow-up observation taken with the Hubble Space Telescope's Wide Field Camera 3. Strong gravitational lenses like LRG 3-757 are more than oddities -- their multiple properties allow astronomers to determine the mass and dark matter content of the foreground galaxy lenses. (citation from APOD
Using a phenomenon called gravitational lensing and supercomputer simulations, a team of astronomers led by Durham University, UK- has discovered one of the biggest black holes ever found. This ultramassive black hole has over 30 billion times the mass of our sun.
The team has discovered this first black hole in a foreground galaxy, using a method that replicates light traveling across the universe countless times. The mass of the black hole in each simulation varies, altering the light path toward Earth. The team made the simulations on the DiRAC HPC facility. This allows them to determine how light bends by a black hole inside a galaxy hundreds of millions of light-years from Earth.
The path that the light from the distant galaxy took to reach Earth when the researchers incorporated an ultramassive black hole in one of their simulations matched the path shown in actual images collected by the Hubble Space Telescope.
Lead author Dr. James Nightingale, Department of Physics, Durham University, said, “This particular black hole, which is roughly 30 billion times the mass of our sun, is one of the biggest ever detected and on the upper limit of how large we believe black holes can theoretically become, so it is a fascinating discovery.”
Sherlock would be proud.