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Mapping dark matter, 4.5 billion light years away

Using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, an international team of astronomers have mapped the mass within a galaxy cluster more precisely than ever before. Created using observations from Hubble's Frontier Fields observing programme, the map shows the amount and distribution of mass within MCS J0416.1–2403, a massive galaxy cluster found to be 160 trillion times the mass of the Sun.

The detail in this 'mass map' was made possible thanks to the unprecedented depth of data provided by new Hubble observations, and the cosmic phenomenon known as strong gravitational lensing. The team, led by Dr Mathilde Jauzac of Durham University in the UK and the Astrophysics & Cosmology Research Unit in South Africa, publish their results in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Galaxy cluster MCS J0416.1–2403, one of six clusters targeted by the Hubble Frontier Fields programme. The blue in this image is a mass map created by using new Hubble observations combined with the magnifying power of a process known as gravitational lensing. In red is the hot gas detected by NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory and shows the location of the gas in the cluster. The matter shown in blue that is separate from the red areas detected by Chandra consists of what is known as dark matter, and which can only be detected directly by gravitational lensing. Credit: ESA/Hubble, NASA, HST Frontier Fields. Acknowledgement: Mathilde Jauzac (Durham University, UK) and Jean-Paul Kneib (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland). Click for a larger version

Measuring the amount and distribution of mass within distant objects in the Universe can be very difficult. A trick often used by astronomers is to explore the contents of large clusters of galaxies by studying the gravitational effects they have on the light from very distant objects beyond them. This is one of the main goals of Hubble's Frontier Fields, an ambitious observing programme scanning six different galaxy clusters — including MCS J0416.1–2403.

Around three quarters of all matter in the Universe is so-called ‘dark matter’, which cannot be seen directly as it does not emit or reflect any light, and can pass through other matter without friction (it is collisionless). It interacts only by gravity, and its presence must be deduced from its gravitational effects.

One of these effects was predicted by Einstein’s general theory of relativity and sees large clumps of mass in the Universe warp and distort the space-time around them. Acting like lenses, they appear to magnify and bend light that travels through them from more distant objects. This is one of the few techniques astronomers can use to study dark matter.

Despite their large masses, the effect of galaxy clusters on their surroundings is usually quite minimal. For the most part they cause what is known as weak lensing, making even more distant sources appear as only slightly more elliptical or smeared across the sky. However, when the cluster is large and dense enough and the alignment of cluster and distant object is just right, the effects can be more dramatic. The images of normal galaxies can be transformed into rings and sweeping arcs of light, even appearing several times within the same image. This effect is known as strong lensing, and it is this phenomenon, seen around the six galaxy clusters targeted by the Frontier Fields programme, that has been used to map the mass distribution of MCS J0416.1–2403, using the new Hubble data.

"The depth of the data lets us see very faint objects and has allowed us to identify more strongly lensed galaxies than ever before," explains Dr Jauzac, lead author of the new Frontier Fields paper.

"Even though strong lensing magnifies the background galaxies they are still very far away and very faint. The depth of these data means that we can identify incredibly distant background galaxies. We now know of more than four times as many strongly lensed galaxies in the cluster than we did before."

Using Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys, the astronomers identified 51 new multiply imaged galaxies around the cluster, quadrupling the number found in previous surveys and bringing the grand total of lensed galaxies to 68. Because these galaxies are seen several times this equates to almost 200 individual strongly lensed images which can be seen across the frame. This effect has allowed Jauzac and her colleagues to calculate the distribution of visible and dark matter in the cluster and produce a highly constrained map of its mass.

"Although we’ve known how to map the mass of a cluster using strong lensing for more than twenty years, it’s taken a long time to get telescopes that can make sufficiently deep and sharp observations, and for our models to become sophisticated enough for us to map, in such unprecedented detail, a system as complicated as MCS J0416.1–2403," says team member Jean-Paul Kneib.

By studying 57 of the most reliably and clearly lensed galaxies, the astronomers modelled the mass of both normal and dark matter within MCS J0416.1-2403. "Our map is twice as good as any previous models of this cluster!" adds Jauzac.

The total mass within MCS J0416.1-2403 — modelled to be over 650,000 light-years across — was found to be 160 trillion times the mass of the Sun. With an uncertainty of 0.5%, this measurement is the most precise mass of a cluster ever produced. By precisely pinpointing where the mass resides within clusters like this one, the astronomers are also measuring the warping of space-time with high precision.

"The Frontier Fields observations and gravitational lensing techniques have opened up a way to very precisely characterise distant objects — in this case a cluster so far away that its light has taken four and a half billion years to reach us," adds Jean-Paul Kneib.

"But we will not stop here. To get a full picture of the mass we need to include weak lensing measurements too. Whilst it can only give a rough estimate of the inner core mass of a cluster, weak lensing provides valuable information about the mass surrounding the cluster core."

The team will continue to study the cluster using ultra-deep Hubble imaging and detailed strong and weak lensing information to map the outer regions of the cluster as well as its inner core, and will thus be able to detect substructures in the cluster's surroundings. They will also use X-ray measurements of hot gas from the Chandra observatory and spectroscopic redshifts made from ground-based observatories to map the contents of the cluster, evaluating the respective contribution of dark matter, gas and stars.

Combining these sources of data will further enhance the detail of this mass distribution map, showing it in 3D and including the relative velocities of the galaxies within it. This paves the way to understanding the history and evolution of this galaxy cluster.

 

Media contacts

Georgia Bladon
ESA/Hubble, Public Information Officer
Garching bei München, Germany
Tel: +44 (0)7816291261
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Durham University Media Relations Team
Tel: +44 (0)191 334 6075
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Robert Massey
Royal Astronomical Society
Tel: +44 (0)20 7734 3307 / 4582
Mob: +44 (0)794 124 8035
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Science contacts

Mathilde Jauzac
Durham University, Institute for Computational Cosmology
Durham, United Kingdom
Mob: +33 6 52 67 15 39 (France)
Mob: +44 7445 218614 (UK)
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Jean-Paul Kneib
École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Observatoire de Sauverny
Versoix, Switzerland
Tel: +41 22 3792473
Mob: +33 695 795 392
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Eric Jullo
Laboratoire d'Astrophysique de Marseille
Marseille, France
Tel: +33 4 91 05 5951
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Johan Richard
Centre de Recherche Astronomique de Lyon, Observatoire de Lyon
Lyon, France
Tel: +33 478 868 378
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Images and captions

Images are available for download from http://www.spacetelescope.org/news/heic1416

Image A: Colour image of galaxy cluster MCS J0416.1–2403

This image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows the galaxy cluster MCS J0416.1–2403. The galaxy is one of six being studied by the Hubble Frontier Fields programme. This programme seeks to analyse the mass distribution in these huge clusters and to use the gravitational lensing effect of these clusters, to peer even deeper into the distant Universe.

A team of researchers used 200 images of distant galaxies, whose light has been bent and magnified by this huge cluster, combined with the depth of Hubble data to measure the total mass of this cluster more precisely than ever before.

Credit: ESA/Hubble, NASA, HST Frontier Fields

Acknowledgement: Mathilde Jauzac (Durham University, UK) and Jean-Paul Kneib (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland)

Image B: Colour image of galaxy cluster MCS J0416.1–2403, annotated.

This image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows galaxy cluster MCS J0416.1–2403. The galaxy is one of six being studied by the Hubble Frontier Fields programme, a programme to analyse the mass distribution in these huge clusters and to use them, combined with a process known as gravitational lensing, to peer even deeper into the distant Universe.

A team of researchers used 200 images of distant galaxies, whose light has been bent and magnified by this huge cluster, combined with new Hubble data to measure the total mass of this cluster more precisely than ever before.

In this image the lensed images available before the new observations are circled in green, and the lensed images identified by the new observations are circled in red.

Credit: ESA/Hubble, NASA, HST Frontier Fields
Acknowledgement: Mathilde Jauzac (Durham University, UK) and Jean-Paul Kneib (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland)

Image C: Mass map and X-ray map of galaxy cluster MCS J0416.1–2403

This image shows the galaxy MCS J0416.1–2403, one of six clusters targeted by the Hubble Frontier Fields programme.

The blue in this image is a mass map created by using new Hubble observations combined with the magnifying power of a process known as gravitational lensing. In red is the hot gas detected by NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory and shows the location of the gas, dust and stars in the cluster. The matter shown in blue that is separate from the red areas detected by Chandra consists of what is known as dark matter, and which can only be detected directly by gravitational lensing.

Credit: ESA/Hubble, NASA, HST Frontier Fields
Acknowledgement: Mathilde Jauzac (Durham University, UK) and Jean-Paul Kneib (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland)

 

Further information

The new work appears in Jauzac, M et al, 2014, "Hubble Frontier Fields: A High-Precision Strong-Lensing Analysis of Galaxy Cluster MACSJ0416.1-2403 Using _200 Multiple Images", Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, vol. 443, pp. 1549-1554, published by Oxford University Press.

Other related links:

 

Notes for editors

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between ESA and NASA.

The international team of astronomers in this study consists of M. Jauzac (Durham University, UK and Astrophysics & Cosmology Research Unit, South Africa); B. Clement (University of Arizona, USA); M. Limousin (Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Marseille, France and University of Copenhagen, Denmark); J. Richard (Université Lyon, France); E. Jullo (Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Marseille, France); H. Ebeling (University of Hawaii, USA); H. Atek (Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland); J.-P. Kneib (Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland and Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Marseille, France); K. Knowles (University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa); P. Natarajan (Yale University, USA); D. Eckert (University of Geneva, Switzerland); E. Egami (University of Arizona, USA); R. Massey (Durham University, UK); and M. Rexroth (Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland).

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