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Through a Glass Darkly

Through a Glass Darkly

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Published by Jennifer Nielsen
A brief introduction to the history and science of gravitational lensing.
A brief introduction to the history and science of gravitational lensing.

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Published by: Jennifer Nielsen on Sep 12, 2010
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07/08/2011

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Through a Glass, Darkly:Observing Our Cosmos Via Gravitational LensesA Literature Review
Jennifer L. Nielsen, University of Missouri – Kansas City, Astrophysics 555 
Do not Bodies act upon Light at a distance, and by their action bend itsRays, and is not this action strongest at the least distance?-Isaac Newton,
Opticks,
1704There is no great chance of observing this phenomenon...-Albert Einstein, 1936
Figure 1: Arcs of light resulting from gravitational lensbehavior in galaxy Abell 2218. Note “glass-like” quality of visual distortion.
I. Introduction
Gravitational lensing is a visually extraordinary astrophysical phenomenonwhich occurs when light from a bright, distant source in space bends around amassive object, such as a galaxy, star or planet, before reaching theobservational instrument of an astronomer. The resulting cosmic mirage--a1
 
distorted image or series of images--is known as a "gravitational lens.”In this summary paper we shall examine the historical background of thephenomenon of gravitational lensing, briefly explicate the basic optics of thesituation under the assumption of general relativity, and examine someapplications and contemporary research in a literature review. We will close withan interesting
gedanken
experiment proposed by Wheeler with possibleramifications on quantum foundations.
Figure 2: The Einstein Cross is a stunning example of four images of one object formed via lensing effects.
II. The Appearance of Things
Gravitational lenses vary depending on the exact position of the light sourceand massive object relative to the observer's perspective. When the source andmassive object are perfectly aligned with the viewer’s line of sight, a bright ring of light is observed surrounding the massive "lensing" object (see Figure 1). (Thisring is commonly referred to as an “Einstein ring” or sometimes a “Chwolsonring.”) If the lensing object is not exactly aligned, the ring disappears and adistorted, magnified version of 2
 
the background source may be viewed. When the objects line up well enoughthat the true position of the background source falls within the radius of thelensing object, then multiple images appear, as the two light paths are differentdistances around the galaxy and create multiple images (Schneider, 1999). SeeFigure 2.
`
III. Historical Background
The bending of light due to the gravitational field of an object was firstanticipated by Isaac Newton, as the first of a number of burning questions helisted for further exploration in the conclusion of his classic
Opticks
in 1704 [1].The first person known to address the concern in detail was physicist JohannSoldner, who wrote a mostly ignored paper "On the Deflection of a Light Rayfrom its Straight Motion due to the Attraction of a World Body which it Passes3

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