Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


New mass map of a distant galaxy cluster is the most precise yet


Stunning new observations from Frontier Fields

Astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope 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.

Colour image of galaxy cluster MCS J0416.1–2403

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.

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, the cluster shown in this stunning new image [1].

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 [2].

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 Mathilde Jauzac of Durham University, UK, and Astrophysics & Cosmology Research Unit, South Africa, 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 [3].

"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. This measurement is several times more precise than any other cluster map, and is the most precise ever produced [4]. 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.

"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 take advantage of X-ray measurements of hot gas and spectroscopic redshifts to map the contents of the cluster, evaluating the respective contribution of dark matter, gas and stars [5].

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.

The results of the study will be published online in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society on 24 July 2014.


[1] The cluster is also known as MACS J0416.1–2403.

[2] The warping of space-time by large objects in the Universe was one of the predictions of Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

[3] Gravitational lensing is one of the few methods astronomers have to find out about dark matter. Dark matter, which makes up around three quarters of all matter in the Universe, 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.

[4] The uncertainty on the measurement is only around 0.5%, or 1 trillion times the mass of the sun. This may not seem precise but it is for a measurement such as this.

[5] NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory was used to obtain X-ray measurements of hot gas in the cluster and ground based observatories provide the data needed to measure spectroscopic redshifts.

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).

More information

Image credit: ESA/Hubble, NASA, HST Frontier Fields
Acknowledgement: Mathilde Jauzac (Durham University, UK and Astrophysics & Cosmology Research Unit, South Africa) and Jean-Paul Kneib (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland)



Mathilde Jauzac
Durham University, Institute for Computational Cosmology
Durham, United Kingdom
Tel: +33 6 52 67 15 39 (France)
Cell: +44 7445 218614 (UK)

Jean-Paul Kneib
École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Observatoire de Sauverny
Versoix, Switzerland
Tel: +41 22 3792473
Cell: +33 695 795 392

Eric Jullo
Laboratoire d'Astrophysique de Marseille
Marseille, France
Tel: +33 4 91 05 5951

Johan Richard
Centre de Recherche Astronomique de Lyon, Observatoire de Lyon
Lyon, France
Tel: +33 478 868 378

Georgia Bladon
ESA/Hubble, Public Information Officer
Garching bei München, Germany
Tel: +44 7816291261

Georgia Bladon | ESA/Hubble Media Newsletter
Further information:

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Artificial Intelligence Helps in the Discovery of New Materials
21.09.2016 | Universität Basel

nachricht Magnetic polaron imaged for the first time
19.09.2016 | Aalto University

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: OLED microdisplays in data glasses for improved human-machine interaction

The Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP has been developing various applications for OLED microdisplays based on organic semiconductors. By integrating the capabilities of an image sensor directly into the microdisplay, eye movements can be recorded by the smart glasses and utilized for guidance and control functions, as one example. The new design will be debuted at Augmented World Expo Europe (AWE) in Berlin at Booth B25, October 18th – 19th.

“Augmented-reality” and “wearables” have become terms we encounter almost daily. Both can make daily life a little simpler and provide valuable assistance for...

Im Focus: Artificial Intelligence Helps in the Discovery of New Materials

With the help of artificial intelligence, chemists from the University of Basel in Switzerland have computed the characteristics of about two million crystals made up of four chemical elements. The researchers were able to identify 90 previously unknown thermodynamically stable crystals that can be regarded as new materials. They report on their findings in the scientific journal Physical Review Letters.

Elpasolite is a glassy, transparent, shiny and soft mineral with a cubic crystal structure. First discovered in El Paso County (Colorado, USA), it can also be...

Im Focus: Complex hardmetal tools out of the 3D printer

For the first time, Fraunhofer IKTS shows additively manufactured hardmetal tools at WorldPM 2016 in Hamburg. Mechanical, chemical as well as a high heat resistance and extreme hardness are required from tools that are used in mechanical and automotive engineering or in plastics and building materials industry. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems IKTS in Dresden managed the production of complex hardmetal tools via 3D printing in a quality that are in no way inferior to conventionally produced high-performance tools.

Fraunhofer IKTS counts decades of proven expertise in the development of hardmetals. To date, reliable cutting, drilling, pressing and stamping tools made of...

Im Focus: Launch of New Industry Working Group for Process Control in Laser Material Processing

At AKL’16, the International Laser Technology Congress held in May this year, interest in the topic of process control was greater than expected. Appropriately, the event was also used to launch the Industry Working Group for Process Control in Laser Material Processing. The group provides a forum for representatives from industry and research to initiate pre-competitive projects and discuss issues such as standards, potential cost savings and feasibility.

In the age of industry 4.0, laser technology is firmly established within manufacturing. A wide variety of laser techniques – from USP ablation and additive...

Im Focus: New laser joining technologies at ‘K 2016’ trade fair

Every three years, the plastics industry gathers at K, the international trade fair for plastics and rubber in Düsseldorf. The Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will also be attending again and presenting many innovative technologies, such as for joining plastics and metals using ultrashort pulse lasers. From October 19 to 26, you can find the Fraunhofer ILT at the joint Fraunhofer booth SC01 in Hall 7.

K is the world’s largest trade fair for the plastics and rubber industry. As in previous years, the organizers are expecting 3,000 exhibitors and more than...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

Experts from industry and academia discuss the future mobile telecommunications standard 5G

23.09.2016 | Event News

ICPE in Graz for the seventh time

20.09.2016 | Event News

Using mathematical models to understand our brain

16.09.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Chains of nanogold – forged with atomic precision

23.09.2016 | Life Sciences

New leukemia treatment offers hope

23.09.2016 | Health and Medicine

Self-assembled nanostructures hit their target

23.09.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>