Help discover gravitational lenses

Posted by Liz Kruesi
on Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The mass of a galaxy cluster warps space-time, and so light from a distant galaxy will bend and magnify around the cluster. Here are a few examples of such gravitational lenses; the lensed background objects take the shape of arcs and smears. In Zooniverse’s new citizen science project, Space Warps, you hunt for these objects. // photo by NASA/ESA/The Hubble SM4 ERO Team/ST-ECF
Zooniverse, which is home to 14 online citizen science projects and more than 830,000 users, just launched another program aimed at armchair astronomers: Space Warps. In this project, you’ll hunt for gravitational lenses. These are the optical illusions created as the light from distant galaxies is bent as it travels near a foreground galaxy or galaxy cluster. (The gravity of that foreground object warps space-time around it.) So you can end up seeing bright arcs, or even full circles, of a background galaxy around the foreground object. Such observations have enabled astronomers to find some of the earliest galaxies known.

The first images available to scan in Space Warps are from the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope legacy survey. Just like with Zooniverse’s Galaxy Zoo and the Milky Way Project, Space Warps uses the fact that humans are better at identifying certain objects than computer programs. Citizen scientists helping with both of these projects, and additional ones from the Zooniverse, have led to all kinds of discoveries (like this one, and this one, and of course, Hanny’s Voorwerp).

So, try your hand at finding these awesome results of extreme gravity. I plan to log in and try identifying some gravitational lenses this week, too.

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