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Through a Glass, Darkly: Observing Our Cosmos Via Gravitational Lenses A 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 its Rays, and is not this action strongest at the least distance? -Isaac Newton, Opticks, 1704 There is no great chance of observing this phenomenon... -Albert Einstein, 1936
Figure 1: Arcs of light resulting from gravitational lens behavior in galaxy Abell 2218. Note “glass-like” quality of visual distortion.
I. Introduction Gravitational lensing is a visually extraordinary astrophysical phenomenon which occurs when light from a bright, distant source in space bends around a massive object, such as a galaxy, star or planet, before reaching the observational instrument of an astronomer. The resulting cosmic mirage--a
2 distorted image or series of images--is known as a "gravitational lens.” In this summary paper we shall examine the historical background of the phenomenon of gravitational lensing, briefly explicate the basic optics of the situation under the assumption of general relativity, and examine some applications and contemporary research in a literature review. We will close with an interesting gedanken experiment proposed by Wheeler with possible ramifications 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 source and massive object relative to the observer's perspective. When the source and massive 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). (This ring is commonly referred to as an “Einstein ring” or sometimes a “Chwolson ring.”) If the lensing object is not exactly aligned, the ring disappears and a distorted, magnified version of
the background source may be viewed. When the objects line up well enough that the true position of the background source falls within the radius of the lensing object, then multiple images appear, as the two light paths are different distances around the galaxy and create multiple images (Schneider, 1999). See Figure 2.` III. Historical Background The bending of light due to the gravitational field of an object was first anticipated by Isaac Newton, as the first of a number of burning questions he listed for further exploration in the conclusion of his classic Opticks in 1704 . The first person known to address the concern in detail was physicist Johann Soldner, who wrote a mostly ignored paper "On the Deflection of a Light Ray from its Straight Motion due to the Attraction of a World Body which it Passes
4 Slowly" a century later, in which he predicted via Newtonian mechanics that a light ray passing close to the solar limb would be deflected by an angle of .875 arcseconds (Soldner, 1804). This basic question resurfaced with a vengeance by 1916, after the development of general relativity, Einstein's geometric theory of gravitation, although the lens-like quality of this bending of light was not immediately seized upon in published work. The first mention of such a "linsenwirkung"--lensing effect-- seems to have occurred in Einstein's personal papers, in which he had begun deriving his "basic lensing equation for a point like light source and a point like gravitating mass" as early as 1912 (Sauer, 2007). This speculation did not “occur in a vacuum,” however, and once general relativity was published other scientists were mentioning similar ideas. Eddington mentioned the possible formation of multiple images of a background star by the gravitational lensing effect of a foreground star as early as 1920 (Eddington, 1920), and the phenomenon was first authoritatively described in a 1924 paper by the Russian physicist Orest Chwolson, who predicted ring-like distortions of light when two stars were perfectly aligned in the field of view of an astronomer, and "factious double stars" when the stars were imperfectly aligned within an angle of maximum deflection (Chwolson, 1924). To Einstein the lensing effect was almost certainly a mathematical footnote of GR with little immediate consequence; he only expounded upon the idea in published form upon the prodding of an electrical engineer, Rudi Mandl (Sauer, 2007). As he put it at the end of his 1936 paper, “There is no great chance of observing this phenomenon” (Einstein,
5 1936). The following year, physicist Fritz Zwicky aptly speculated that massive galaxies were more likely to be gravitationally lensed than stars, and that gravitational lenses could be used as natural telescopes (Zwicky, 1937). Although this idea could not be confirmed at the time due to the limitations of telescopes, gravitational lensing by galaxy clusters was verified within the century in 1979 when the "Twin QSO" was observed (Walsh, 1979). This discovery moved gravitational lensing from the realm of theoretical abstraction to a resource in observational astrophysics and cosmology. Today, gravitational lensing effects have been observed in over a hundred locations in the observable universe (Hubble Press Release, 2005) and the phenomenon is being used to explore a plethora of concepts on the bridge between theoretical and observational astrophysics. IV. A Brief Overview of Gravity Lenses The theory of general relativity reveals that the presence of matter warps space-time around it, and the more mass is present, the stronger is the “warp.” For strong distortions of space-time, the path of light that passes through such a space-time wrinkle is changed. Gravitational lensing is perhaps the most stunning astrophysical evidence of the bending of space-time predicted by general relativity, which run from mild distortions of light to the impressive singularities in the cores of black holes from which light can never escape (Mollerach and Roulet, 2002). To derive basic optics of gravitational lensing, we assume that the underlying
6 space-time is well described by a perturbed Friedmann–Robertson–Walker metric (Schneider, 1999) which is an exact result of general relativity describing a simply connected, homogeneous, isotropic, expanding (or contracting) universe (PETTERS, 2001; Mollerach and Esteban, 2002). The metric is expressed as
(1) where ds is the differential interval between nearby events. In the thin-lens approximation, hyperbolic paths are approximated by their asymptotes. In the circular case, the deflection angle is given as:
(where M is the mass within a radius ξ, provided that the impact parameter ξ is much larger than the corresponding Schwartzchild radius).
Figure 4: Simplified diagram of a gravitational lensing situation with photon source S, observer O, lensing mass M, distances, and angles.
From Figure 5, we see that the following relations hold for our situation. (Note the last relation is the lens equation):
(3) (4) (5)
Plugging (2) into (4) and noting
, we get
(6) and for the case where the source lies exactly behind the lens we obtain
(7) where θ is the angular radius of the image (“Einstein ring”). For an isolated point source, we get
and solving for θ obtain
which reveals that for the point source, we will obtain two images of the source with corresponding angles θ-, θ+. To find magnification we use the lens equation and the definition of magnification as
to obtain the following result: sum of the two magnification results, given by
9 reveals the total visible magnification. A Jacobian lens mapping and time delays can now be calculated, but this is beyond the scope of our introduction. (Schneider, 1999, Wammbsganns, 2010).
V. Research and Applications Much like earthly lenses of glass, gravitational lenses have been used as important tools in observational research. Gravitational lensing has also been explored in depth by theoretical physicists who use their understanding of gravitational effects, along with data obtained by observers of actual gravitational lenses, to probe important cosmological questions. Just a smattering of the applications is wide in scope. Gravitational lenses may be used to better understand the nature and distribution of luminous and dark matter in the universe, to infer the distance scale of the universe by aiding in the determination of the Hubble constant, to help determine cosmological density, to study lensing effects of black holes with singularities to aid in the determination of the presence of the extinction law in deflectors at high redshift, to determine the size and structure of quasars, to study the size of absorbing intergalactic gas clouds, and to study upper limits on the density of a cosmological population of massive compact objects (Surdej and Claeskens,
2001, Mollerach, 2001). They furthermore may be used to examine objects that would not otherwise be visible, including distant galaxies and extrasolar planets. There are two major types of gravitational lenses relevant in research
today—macrolensing and microlensing.
A macrolens is a type of gravitational lens where the lensing object, such as a cluster of galaxies, is very massive. Macrolenses result in the visual distortions, such as Einstein rings, previously discussed and depicted. Macrolensing effects are being used probe information on the distribution of baryonic (light reflecting) matter and non-baryonic (dark) matter in the universe. There are two kinds of macrolensing, strong and weak (Mollerach, 2002). If the light from a distant object is bent to such a great extent that we, the observer, can see more than one image of single source, then we are viewing the effect known as “strong gravitational lensing.” Strong lensing is used to study large scale gravitational effects, making use of Einstein rings, arc effects, multiply imaged quasars, and clusters (Wambsganns, 2010), and is important in a variety of research areas, including the mapping of dark matter, constraint and determination of the Hubble constant and in determining extragalactic distance scale. Weak lensing produces single weakly distorted images of sources. These effects are much more common than the giant arcs and multiple images associated with strong lensing. There are two major ways in which weak lensing produces measurable effects. In the first case, background galaxies are weakly lensed by large scale structures or by foreground galaxy clusters (Villumsen, 1996). In the second case, weak magnification changes the observed number
11 density of source background galaxies, or changes the size of images on a given surface brightness. These cases are often examined for evidence of “cosmic shear.” The presence of foreground mass can be detected by way of a systematic alignment of background sources around the lensing mass. Weak gravitational lensing is studied through statistical measurements which provide astronomers with a method to determine the masses of astronomical objects such as clusters without requiring assumptions about composition or dynamics.
When a light source passes behind an object of compact mass, the focusing effect on the light leads to a temporary change in the energy flux (brightness) of the star. The optical effect is not visible as in macrolensing but has been observed since the early 1990s by monitoring a large number of stars in the bulge of our Galaxy, in the Magellanic Clouds and in the Andromeda galaxy (Perlick, 2004). Microlensing is thus a statitistically observed phenomenon. Microlensing is used primarily in the search for dark matter in our galaxy and close neighbors, as such lenses can be used to detect objects that cannot be imaged directly, such as MACHOs (massive compact halo objects). Microlenses are also being used to detect binary star systems, as well as expoplanets as light from binary stars or stars with exoplanets is lensed differently than light of lone stars.
A Survey of Literature While a complete overview of all of the applications of gravitational lensing is beyond the scope of this paper, a look into several major categories-observation and data mining, applications in clusters and galaxy evolution, the search for exoplanets, dark matter, and constraint of cosmological principles--will give a taste of the depth of the field.
Observation and Data Mining Different large scale collaborative studies and surveys of gravitational lenses are being undertaken for valuable data mining. These longterm studies and surveys include projects such as SLACS, CASTLES, MACHO, MOA and OGLE. OGLE (Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment) is using the 1.3 m Warsaw telescope at the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile to collect real time microlensing data useful in detecting dark matter, binary systems, dark matter and extrasolar planets (Udalski, 2003). MOA (Microlensing Observations in Astrophysics) is a similar ongoing Japan/NZ collaboration observing dark matter, extra-solar planets and stellar atmospheres using the gravitational microlensing technique at the Mt John Observatory in New Zealand (Abe, 1997). MACHO is another microlensing study and collaboration between scientists at the Mt. Stromlo & Siding Spring Observatories, the Center for Particle Astrophysics at the Santa Barbara, San Diego, and Berkeley campuses of the University of California, and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, with
13 the primary aim of testing the hypothesis that a significant fraction of the dark matter in the halo of the Milky Way is made up of MACHOS such as brown dwarfs (Welch, 1994). Both CASTLES (the CfA-Arizona-Space-Telescope-LEnsSurvey) and SLACS (the Sloan Lens ACS Survey) are making use of recent high resolution data from the Hubble Space telescope. CASTLES is studying a sample of over 50 known gravitational lenses at optical and infrared wavelengths (Falco, 1999). The SLACS surveyors are in the process of identifying and studying a large and uniform sample of strong gravitational lens galaxies using Hubble in combination with the recent Sloan Digital Sky Survey (Bolton, 2006). Via SLACS alone, the number of identified gravitational lenses has quadrupled (NASA, 2005). Applications in Clusters and Galaxy Evolution Weak lensing is being used to determine the masses of clusters and other astronomical objects (Kaiser and Squires, 1993, Bartelmann, 1995). The method used by most astronomers involves observation of a background galaxy’s ellipticity to obtain components of tidal fields in order to develop a quantitative reconstruction of cluster surface mass distribution.T his process was developed by Kaiser and Squires (Kaiser and Squires, 1993) and has since been refined (Wambsganns, 2010).
Studies of galaxy evolution are being enhanced with lensing techniques. By studying gravitational lenses at at different redshifts in a process known as weak lensing tomography, gravitational lenses as they appeared several billion years
14 ago can be compared with gravitational lenses today, and it can be determined whether the distribution of dark and visible mass changes in cosmic time (Ma, 2006). Samples of spiral galaxy lenses have been determined to provide useful constraints on galactic structure, due to the dependence of lens properties on the masses and shapes of galactic halo, disk and bulges (Keetan and Kochanek, 2010). Models such as galaxy growth via colllision can furthermore be checked using simulations and data collected from surveys such as SLACS. Recently, simulations have been run to test the impact of dry merging on evolution of earlytype galaxies, with results indicating that less than 20% of early-type galaxy growth is due to dry merging (Nipoti, 2009).
Detection of Extrasolar Planets and Binary Star Systems Both binary star systems and planets outside of our solar system are currently being detected by means of gravitational microlensing (Mao and Pacsynski, 1991; Udalski, 2003; Gould and Loeb, 1992; Wambsganns, 1997; Beaulieu, 2006). Over two hundred planets in over 170 star systems have been found, including a recently found cool planet of 5.5 earth masses (Beaulieu, 2006). Microlensing is most sensitive to planets in Earth-to-Jupiter-like orbits with semi-major axes in the range 1-5 AU. Such planets may be revealed orbiting stars serving as foreground lenses if light curves are measured frequently enough to distinguish deviations with features lasting just a few hours (Beaulieu, 2006).
15 In an OGLE summary paper, A. Udalski describes the process of locating binaries and planets using microlensing. The procedures are similar. “Of particular interest are disturbances induced by planetary companions of lensing stars, or first caustic crossing [here “caustic” refers to the envelope of light rays refracted by the lensing object] of binary microlensing…The passage through the caustics typically lasts a few hours so it is essential to observe the event every few minutes…In the case of disturbances caused by planetary companions…its time scale can also be of the order of hours and again frequent observations of the event are crucial for correct interpretation…” (Udalski, 2003). A relatively recent phenomenon in the area of is the concept of “mesolensing.” As a magnifying glass held close to your face distorts more of your field of view than one held at arm's length, stars in the very near universe lens background stars more often for earth observers. This effect, dubbed “mesolensing,” was recently proposed in the Astrophysical Journal by R. Di Stefano. Mesolensing is particularly senstive to detecting planets orbiting at a distance equal to the Einstein radius. By fortuitous coincidence, the Einstein radius is very close to the radius of planets orbiting in an area known as the “habitable zone” (the zone where earthlike life is most likely to evolve). Furthermore, Di Stefano’s group notes that individual nearby dwarf stars can produce lensing events at predictable times, and that careful monitoring of these events could reveal planets located in the zone of habitability. Such “planned” viewings of lensing events are unprecedented. (Di Stefano, 2008; Di Stefano and Night, 2008.)
Dark Matter Research and Detection of Supermassive Black Holes Gravitational lensing has been used to discover gravitational evidence of otherwise “invisible” mass—dark matter. Methods of mapping luminous and dark matter using weak lensing were developed by Kaiser and Squires in 1993, and research in this vein continues to the present (Ferreras, 2008). Recently a weak lensing analysis of deep HST data, Catherine Heymans’ group reconstructed a subarcminute resolution map of the dark matter distribution in the Abell 901/902 supercluster, finding maximal peaks in the dark matter distribution around brightest cluster galaxies (Heymnans, 2008). Some recent results indicate that MACHOs are not as significant a contributor to dark matter as once thought. Observations made toward the Large Magellanic Cloud show that there are fewer microlensing events than expected if the halo of the Milky Way was entirely composed of MACHOs (Gates, 1998). The MACHO project has found that the maximum likelihood analysis gives a MACHO halo fraction of 20% for a typical halo model (Alcock, 2000). Black holes, another long-time contender as a primary source of dark matter, may also be studied via mass determination using galactic lensing techniques (Mao, 2001; Rusin, 2005). A 2005 theoretical paper by Rusin, Keeton and Winn determined that when a central lens is detected, the mass of a black hole can be determined with high accuracy.
Gravitational lensing is currently being used to determine, or at least constrain, values for certain important physical constants including the Hubble constant and the cosmological constant (Blandford and Kundic, 1997, Fukugita, 1990; Bernandeau, 2007). Thus gravitational lensing plays an important role in our ability to determine the distance scale and overall shape and ultimate fate of our expanding universe. According to Fukugita, “Lens observables are strongly affected by the cosmological constant, especially in a low-density universe, and its existence might be determined by a statistical study of lenses….With a non-zero cosmological constant the optical depth increases rapidly as the source redshift increases, and the lens distribution has a peak at a substantially deeper redshift than if the cosmological constant were zero.”
VI. Conclusions and the Future of Gravitational Lensing Research We have seen that gravitational lensing holds implications in a wide variety of astrophysical and cosmological topics. Recently, it has been speculated by Wambsganns that gravitational lensing will cease to exist as a subspecialty since “ultimately every object in the sky is affected by (ever so slight) lensing effects.” Instead, lensing by gravity will ubiquitously permeating the entire field of astrophysics (Wambsganns, 2010).
18 We will close our paper with one last strange and speculative, yet still possible application of gravitational lensing—a cosmic scale testing of the double slit experiment. Imagine a galaxy acting as a gravitational lens between the Earth and a quasar. The galaxy bends the ray of light around itself and splits the image into two rays. It has been long been known, according to the delayed choice variation of the double slit experiment developed by John Wheeler, that when we observe the arrival of a photon which has a choice of paths, we may determine via measurement by half silvered mirrors which path a photon appears to travel, or whether it traveled “both rays” as a wave (Jacques, 2007). . Although a distant quasar may be billions of light years away, this implies that we can at least appear to force, via measurement, a photon to choose its path to earth along a certain path billions of years into the cosmic past. Scientists at SETI are currently in the process of developing a plausible cosmic-scale test (Doyle, 2005.) The possibilities of gravitational lensing research are truly unlimited.
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