Hubble captures a 'quintuple' quasar

May 23, 2006

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has captured the first-ever picture of a distant quasar lensed into five images. In addition the image holds a treasure of lensed galaxies and even a supernova.

The most unique feature in this new image taken with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope is a group of five quasar images produced by a process called 'gravitational lensing'. By this process the gravitational field of an extremely massive body - in this case, a cluster of galaxies - warps the surrounding space. The light emitted from an object - in this case, a quasar - travels amplified and bended, and multiple images of the light source may be seen, each taking a different path through the warped space. Although other multiply lensed quasars have been seen before, this is the only case so far in which multiple quasar images are produced by an entire galaxy cluster acting as a gravitational lens.

The galaxy cluster creating the lens is known as SDSS J1004+4112 and was discovered as part of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. It is one of the more distant clusters known (seven thousand million light-years), and the image we observe today was 'projected' when the Universe was half of its present age. The cluster also creates a cobweb of images of other distant galaxies gravitationally lensed into arcs.

The background quasar observed by Hubble is the brilliant core of a galaxy. It is powered by a black hole, which is devouring gas and dust and creating a gusher of light in the process. When the quasar's light passes through the gravity field of the galaxy cluster that lies between us and the quasar, the light is bent by the space-warping gravity field in such a way that five separate images of the object are produced around the cluster's centre.

The fifth quasar image is embedded to the right of the core of the central galaxy in the cluster. A gravitational lens will always produce an odd number of lensed images, but one image is usually very weak and embedded deep within the light of the lensing object itself.

Though previous observations of SDSS J1004+4112 have revealed four of the images of this system, Hubble's sharp vision and the high magnification of this gravitational lens combine to place a fifth image far enough from the core of the central imaging galaxy to make it visible as well.

The galaxy hosting the background quasar is at a distance of 10 thousand million light years, and it can be seen in the image as faint red arcs. This is the most highly magnified quasar host galaxy ever seen.

The Hubble picture also shows a large number of stretched arcs that are more distant galaxies lying behind the cluster, each of which is split into multiple distorted images. The most distant galaxy identified and confirmed so far is 12 thousand million light years away.

By comparing this image to a picture of the cluster obtained with Hubble a year earlier, the researchers discovered a rare event - a supernova exploding in one of the cluster galaxies. This supernova exploded seven thousand million years ago, and the data, together with other supernova observations, are being used to understand how the Universe was enriched by heavy elements through these explosions.
-end-


European Space Agency

Related Supernova Articles from Brightsurf:

Scientists discover supernova that outshines all others
A supernova at least twice as bright and energetic, and likely much more massive than any yet recorded has been identified by an international team of astronomers, led by the University of Birmingham.

Supernova observation first of its kind using NASA satellite
Their research, detailed in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, represents the first published findings about a supernova observed using TESS, and add new insights to long-held theories about the elements left behind after a white dwarf star explodes into a supernova.

Astronomers find possible elusive star behind supernova
Astronomers may have finally found a doomed star that seemed to have avoided detection before its explosive death.

Stellar thief is the surviving companion to a supernova
Hubble found the most compelling evidence that some supernovas originate in double-star systems.

Supernova may have 'burped' before exploding
Only by increasing the rate at which telescopes monitor the sky has it been possible to catch more Fast-Evolving Luminous Transients (FELTs) and begin to understand them.

An unusual white dwarf may be a supernova leftover
Astronomers have identified a white dwarf star in our galaxy that may be the leftover remains of a recently discovered type of supernova.

Researchers show how to make your own supernova
Researchers from the University of Oxford are using the largest, most intense lasers on the planet, to for the first time, show the general public how to recreate the effects of supernovae, in a laboratory.

The big star that couldn't become a supernova
For the first time in history, astronomers have been able to watch as a dying star was reborn as a black hole.

Seeing quadruple: Four images of the same supernova, a rare find
Galaxies bend light through an effect called gravitational lensing that helps astronomers peer deeper into the cosmos.

Explosive material: The making of a supernova
Pre-supernova stars may show signs of instability for months before the big explosion

Read More: Supernova News and Supernova Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.