In a recent discovery, NASA's James Webb Space Telescope has highlighted a second supernova event within the distant galaxy MRG-M0138.
This discovery, arising from observations of the galaxy cluster MACS J0138.0-2155, represents a major milestone in astronomy.
Gravitational lensing of a supernova
Through a process called gravitational lensing—which was first predicted by Albert Einstein—the intense gravity of a massive object distorts and amplifies light from objects behind it.
In this case, MACS J0138.0-2155 acts as a cosmic lens, distorting and amplifying light from the galaxy MRG-M0138, which lies far behind it. This effect not only magnified the distant galaxy, but also produced five separate images of it.
The story of the MRG-M0138 supernova began in 2019 when astronomers, using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope images from 2016, identified a starburst within the galaxy.
Fast forward to November 2023, and the James Webb Space Telescope has captured another supernova in the same galaxy, a rare event that provides a unique window into cosmic events.
“When a supernova explodes behind a gravitational lens, its light reaches Earth along several different paths. We can compare these paths to several trains leaving the station at the same time, all traveling at the same speed and heading to the same location.”
“Each train takes a different route, and due to differences in journey length and terrain, trains do not reach their destination at the same time. Likewise, gravitational lensing supernova images appear to astronomers over days, weeks, or even years.
“By measuring differences in the times when images of supernovas appear, we can measure the history of the expansion rate of the universe, known as the Hubble constant, which represents a major challenge in cosmology today. The problem is that these multi-image supernovae are extremely rare: fewer have been detected Twelve of them so far.
“Within this small club, the 2016 supernova in MRG-M0138, called Requiem, stood out for several reasons. First, it was 10 billion light-years away. Second, the supernova was likely of the same type that is used as a standard candle.” ” To measure cosmic distances. Third, models predicted that one of the supernova images was so delayed by its path through the cluster's intense gravity that it would not appear to us until the mid-2030s.
The second gravitationally lensed supernova
Unfortunately, since Requiem was not discovered until long after it had faded from view, it was not possible to collect enough data to measure the Hubble constant at that time, Pearl and Newman said.
“We have now found a second gravitational lensing supernova within the same Requiem galaxy, which we call the Encore Supernova. Encore was discovered by chance, and we are now actively tracking the ongoing supernova through a time-critical director estimation program.”
“Using these Webb images, we will measure and confirm the Hubble constant based on this doubly imaged supernova. Encore has been confirmed to be a standard candle or Type Ia supernova, making Encore and Requiem by far the most distant pair of 'siblings “The most record-breaking supernova ever discovered.
“Supernovas are usually unpredictable, but in this case we know when and where to look to see the final appearances of the mass and apparition. Infrared observations around 2035 will capture their latest developments and provide a new, precise measurement of the Hubble constant.”
More about gravitational lensing
As discussed above, gravitational lensing, a fascinating phenomenon in astrophysics, occurs when a massive object, such as a galaxy or group of galaxies, bends light coming from a more distant object, such as a star, supernova, or galaxy.
This curvature effect is a result of Einstein's theory of general relativity, which describes gravity not as a force, but as a curvature of spacetime caused by mass.
Mechanics of gravitational lensing
In essence, gravitational lensing works like a natural telescope, magnifying and distorting light coming from distant celestial objects.
Astronomers use this effect to study objects that are too faint or too distant to observe directly. They have become a crucial tool in exploring the universe, helping to discover distant galaxies, mapping dark matter, and studying the expansion rate of the universe.
Types of gravitational lens
There are three types of gravitational lensing: strong, weak, and microscopic. A powerful lens creates multiple images, arcs, or even ring-like structures known as Einstein rings around the body of the lens.
Weak lensing, although less dramatic optically, changes the shapes of background galaxies slightly, providing key information about the distribution of dark matter.
Microlensing, on the other hand, occurs when one star passes in front of another star, causing a temporary increase in brightness.
Impact on astronomy and physics
Gravitational lensing is also a powerful test of Einstein's theory, consistently supporting his predictions about how gravity affects light.
The Hubble Space Telescope and other ground-based observatories have captured stunning images of this phenomenon, providing not only scientific insights but also visually stunning evidence of the complex workings of our universe.
In short, as technology advances, gravitational lensing continues to expand our understanding of the universe, unveiling the secrets of dark matter, the formation of galaxies, and the fabric of space-time itself.
Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Justin Bierle (STScI), and Andrew Newman (Carnegie Institution for Science).
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