Friday, August 20, 2010

Using A Magnifying Glass To Study Dark Energy

Abbel 1689 galaxy cluster.
After years of research and mathematical problems that would give Einstein a headache, scientists have devised some special methods to study dark energy. The new research appears in the journal Science and was conducted by scientists from all over the world.

Since the discovery of dark energy in 1998, scientists have been trying to figure out ways to better understand this mysterious force. Dark energy is invisible and cannot be felt or touched. It is the force that scientists believe is responsible for the expansion of the known Universe.

Finding more about dark energy has been a big challenge for scientists. They pretty much had to come up with a whole special system in order to study it. A better understanding of dark energy could help explain more about the development of the Universe and where it's heading.

Recently, scientists have been looking at the cluster of galaxies called Abbel 1689. This is because the cluster produces a phenomenon called "gravitational lensing." Gravitational lensing, in simple terms, is the way super far away galaxies bend light because of their mass, like a giant magnifying glass.

So when astronomers look at Abell 1689 in a telescope, the huge mass and gravitational pull of it actually warps its image. Pretty cool, huh?

Priyamvada Natarajan, one of the scientists behind the research, explains it this way:

"It's like a magnifying glass, where the image you get depends on the shape of the lens and how far you hold it from the object you're looking at. If you know the shape of the lens and the image you get, you can work out the path that light followed between the object and your eye."

By looking at the warped images of the galaxy cluster, scientists can study the exact path the bent light follows on its way to Earth. Furthermore, since dark energy is responsible for the expanding universe, the bent light will be slightly changed and so every image of this galaxy cluster holds valuable information on the affects of dark energy and the fate of the Universe.

Further reading: EurekaAlert!
Image: NASA, ESA

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