This week is the BBC’s Stargazing Live show: three now-annual nights of live stargazing and astronomy chatter, live from Jodrell Bank. In 2012 we asked the Stargazing Live viewers to help us discover a planet with Planet Hunters, in 2013 we explored the surface of Mars with Planet Four. This year we are inviting everybody to use our Space Warps project to discover some of most beautiful and rare objects in the universe: gravitational lenses.
Space Warps launched last year and originally the project asked everyone to spot gravitationally lensed features in optical images from the CFHT Legacy Survey. We’re still busy processing the data but you seem to have found lenses – including the three shown at the top of this post! For Stargazing Live we’re adding a whole new dataset of infrared images, which has not been deeply searched for lenses before. We’re also now working with ’targeted’ data. This means that we are only showing images containing objects in them that could either be lenses, or would be interesting if they were being lensed. So your odds of finding something amazing have really gone up!
Gravitational lenses occur when a massive galaxy – or cluster of galaxies – pass in front of more distant objects. The enormous mass of the (relatively) closer object literally bend light around them and distort the image of the distant source. Imagine holding up a magnifying glass and waving it around the night sky so that starlight is bent and warped by the lens. You can see more about this here on the ESO website.
We’re blogging right now from Jodrell Bank (the dish is looking lovely BTW) and the Stargazing Live set and everyone here is buzzing with the idea that we might find some gravitational lenses that have never been seen before! Good luck, and happy classifying. Even K9 is excited.
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