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Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Measuring Cosmic Enlargement with a Lensed Supernova

• Physics 16, 85

Astronomers have demonstrated a brand new technique for figuring out the Hubble fixed that includes measuring the time delay between a number of photos of a lensed supernova.

This Hubble telescope picture exhibits the places of the primary 4 photos (S1–S4) of a lensed supernova seen in late 2014. A yr later, astronomers detected a fifth picture on the level SX. A brand new evaluation has used the 376 days it took for SX to look to estimate the cosmic enlargement fee.This Hubble telescope picture exhibits the places of the primary 4 photos (S1–S4) of a lensed supernova seen in late 2014. A yr later, astronomers detected a fifth picture on the level SX. A brand new evaluation has used the 376 days it took for SX to look … Present extra

This yr marks the a hundredth anniversary of Edwin Hubble’s commentary of a pulsating star known as a Cepheid variable within the Andromeda nebula. The star was surprisingly faint, implying that it was very far-off and that Andromeda have to be a separate galaxy—the primary proof that our Milky Method isn’t alone. Hubble went on to uncover different galaxies and located that they have been all shifting away from us—a cosmic enlargement characterised by the so-called Hubble fixed. Astronomers have now used one other star, an exploding supernova whose mild was bent because it traveled to Earth, to probe the enlargement [1]. By figuring out a time delay between totally different photos of the supernova, the staff has recovered a price of the Hubble fixed that’s decrease than estimates primarily based on Cepheids and on different distance markers. Nonetheless, the error bars are giant for the brand new measurement, so astronomers will want extra observations to make lensed supernovae a precision pace verify on cosmic enlargement.

A lensed supernova is created by the light-bending energy of gravity. When a supernova is behind a galaxy, relative to Earth, the sunshine from the exploding star will get curved across the galaxy by the galaxy’s gravity. This motion each distorts the star’s picture and magnifies it, identical to a magnifying glass. Generally this lensing can produce a number of photos of the star, with every showing at a distinct level within the sky. The sunshine from such a set of photos travels to Earth alongside totally different paths, and so arrives at Earth at totally different instances. In 1964, the astronomer Sjur Refsdal proposed utilizing the time delays to measure the Hubble fixed. However detecting a multi-imaged supernova has proved tough.

Luck lastly got here 50 years after Refsdal’s proposal. In a Hubble house telescope picture from December 2014, Patrick Kelly, then on the College of California, Berkeley, and now on the College of Minnesota, noticed 4 lensed photos of the identical supernova [2]. The staff was unable to find out the precise time delays between these photos, however from earlier observations of this a part of the sky, Kelly and his colleagues predicted {that a} fifth picture was on the best way. This expectation was primarily based on the noticed supernova sitting behind a galaxy cluster, relatively than a single galaxy, so the supernova mild had a number of paths to achieve Earth. The astronomers stored a gentle watch, and certain sufficient the fifth picture appeared in December 2015, roughly 376 days after the opposite 4 photos. This very long time delay, which was attributable to the cluster’s giant mass density, was a boon to the cosmic enlargement measurement. “It’s advantageous to have a year-long delay, as a result of the worth of the Hubble fixed is inversely proportional to the time delay,” Kelly says.

However the time delay alone is inadequate to find out the Hubble fixed. Astronomers additionally have to hint out the precise paths that the supernova mild takes on its option to Earth. For that tracing, they use fashions of the distribution of mass inside the galaxy cluster. However a lot of that mass lies in unobservable darkish matter, so the outputs of the fashions don’t all agree. To avoid this subject, Kelly and his colleagues evaluated the fashions’ predictions of the relative brightness of successive supernova photos and of the situation of probably the most just lately arrived picture. Primarily based on that analysis, they got here up with a best-fit mannequin of the mass distribution, which they used to acquire a Hubble fixed of 65 km/s/Mpc, the place Mpc stands for megaparsec. The error bar is round 4 km/s/Mpc, or 6%.

Cosmologists would love new methods to measure the Hubble fixed, because the outcomes of the 2 most-established strategies disagree. The primary technique—which follows within the footsteps of Hubble’s work from a century in the past—makes use of Cepheids and different well-characterized objects, corresponding to masers and kind 1a supernovae, to measure cosmic distances. “Hubble could be amazed to see that we’re nonetheless utilizing Cepheids,” says physics Nobel laureate Adam Riess from Johns Hopkins College in Maryland. Riess and his colleagues have used such cosmic-distance measurements to find out a Hubble fixed of 73 km/s/Mpc with a 1% precision. This measurement disagrees with one other technique primarily based on the cosmic microwave background, which discovered 67 km/s/Mpc. This 9% discrepancy is named the Hubble pressure, and it stays a serious puzzle (see Function: Cosmologists Can’t Agree on the Hubble Fixed).

The lensed supernova results of Kelly and colleagues is on the low finish of the Hubble pressure vary. However the error bars are giant sufficient that the worth agrees with the opposite two. “I don’t suppose [the lensed supernova measurement] says something vital concerning the Hubble fixed at this level,” Riess says.

One option to shrink the error bars on the brand new Hubble estimate could be to enhance the fashions of the mass distribution within the cluster that lensed the noticed supernova mild. Kelly says that future measurements by the JWST (the Hubble telescope’s successor) may assist in mapping the cluster’s mass. There’s additionally the anticipation of extra lensed supernovae observations. Only recently, astronomers detected a distinct lensed supernova with JWST. “I’m fairly bullish on that supernova yielding one thing fascinating,” Kelly says. Future surveys, corresponding to these deliberate for the Rubin Observatory in Chile within the subsequent few years, also needs to uncover a whole bunch extra lensed supernovae, says Sherry Suyu from the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Germany. “Lensed supernovae have been very uncommon till now,” Suyu says. “We’re coming into an thrilling period with lensed supernovae!”

–Michael Schirber

Michael Schirber is a Corresponding Editor for Physics Journal primarily based in Lyon, France.


  1. P. L. Kelly et al., “Constraints on the Hubble fixed from Supernova Refsdal’s reappearance,” Science (2023).
  2. P. L. Kelly et al., “A number of photos of a extremely magnified supernova fashioned by an early-type cluster galaxy lens,” Science 347, 1123 (2015).

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