Feeds

Quasar scrutineers use entire galaxy as telescope lens

Dr Boffin: 'We could spot loose change beyond Moon orbit'

Intelligent flash storage arrays

A team of crafty astroboffins say they have managed to probe the guts of a quasar ten billion lightyears away - using nothing less than an entire galaxy as the main lens of their telescope.

Multiple images of a quasar produced by foreground galaxy gravity lens

The Einstein cross.

Quasars, as any fule kno, are mysterious objects found at the very fringes of the universe. They squirt out unfeasibly massive amounts of energy in a process thought to involve incredibly mega-huge black holes, but they are so very far away that it's difficult to get a proper look at them and work out exactly what's going on.

But a crowd of top quasar brains in Europe and America have now changed all that. To begin with, they tackled the problem using the Very Large Telescope (VLT) belonging to the European Southern Observatory - and there's a reason why the VLT isn't called the Not Particularly Big Telescope, if you get our drift.

But even the mighty VLT's largeness was not enough to magnify something ten billion lightyears off with any precision. A truly gigantic lens, larger than any the human race could hope to create, was going to be necessary.

Luckily, however, there was one in place already. There is a quasar which handily has another galaxy lying between it and our solar system. This foreground galaxy's colossal mass acts in effect as a gravitational lens, bending and magnifying the light emitted by the quasar lying beyond it.

In fact the galaxy also causes multiple images of the quasar to arrive at Earth, arranged in a rough X known to astronomers as "the Einstein cross" - the eminent physicist having predicted the gravitational lensing effect in his theory of general relativity.

"The combination of this natural magnification with the use of a big telescope provides us with the sharpest details ever obtained," says Frédéric Courbin, leading the quasar-probe push.

So sharp is the picture provide by the VLT and galacto-gaze combo, it offers resolution equivalent to one millionth of an arc second. According to a summary released by the splendidly-named Dr Henri Boffin of the ESO, such resolution would allow one to see a coin floating in space 13 times as far away as the Moon. Or it would if you didn't need the use of a galaxy a billion lightyears off, anyway.

There's more detail for those with the intellectual spectacles to see it here and here. ®

Intelligent flash storage arrays

More from The Register

next story
MARS NEEDS WOMEN, claims NASA pseudo 'naut: They eat less
'Some might find this idea offensive' boffin admits
Boffins who stare at goats: I do believe they’re SHRINKING
Alpine chamois being squashed by global warming
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
Comet Siding Spring revealed as flying molehill
Hiding from this space pimple isn't going to do humanity's reputation any good
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
No sail: NASA spikes Sunjammer
'Solar sail' demonstrator project binned
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
prev story

Whitepapers

Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.