Home Science ALMA Telescope imaged massive galaxy SDP.81 with the help of gravitational lens

ALMA Telescope imaged massive galaxy SDP.81 with the help of gravitational lens


The Atacama Large Millimeter Array telescope has managed to capture something that scientists have been seeking for decades. For cartographers, or the people who map galaxies that are on the edge of the known universe, mapping galaxies is just another day on the job. However, the ALMA telescope, combined with a gravitational lens, or what is otherwise known as the ‘natural telescope’ has created an unprecedented view for scientists.

ALMA was able to capture a monstrous galaxy known as SDP.81, which happens to be 11.7 billion light-years away from Earth. As far as positioning is concerned, it’s located in the same region in the sky as the constellation Hydra. However, as astronomers analyzed the pictures that were taken during the October 2014 mission, they found that there was also a supermassive black hole in the foreground of the galaxy.

In the photo, you can see the outline or ring shape, and then it gives way to several bright lights – where the galaxy is actually located. The picture of the ring is something that scientists are so interested in because it’s one of the most-detailed, and most interesting photographs ever taken in space. It’s something that scientists are marveling at, despite the fact that it does give cadence to some interesting new observations.

Credit: Y. Tamura (The University of Tokyo)/ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO) National Astronomical Observatory of Japan

However, the bright light gives cadence to another interesting scientific theory that has stood the test of time for years. Einstein’s theory of General Relativity reminds us that there when light travels through curved space-time, it bends, and ultimately creates a cosmic lens. Just like what humans observe here on Earth can sometimes be influenced by a curve or bend in time, the result is something that is really impressive, especially when we’re not even talking about an image captured here on Earth.


Astronomers are calling this an Einstein ring, and something that’s incredibly pertinent to further study of time and energy in space. The research was conducted at the University of Tokyo, where researchers Yochi Tamura, Masamune Oguri, and several others worked on the results.

Rob Ivison, co-author of two of the papers, which were published from the research, pointed out that, “The reconstructed ALMA image of the galaxy is spectacular.” He went on to point out that, “ALMA’s huge collecting area, the large separation of its antennas, and the stable atmosphere above the Atacama desert all lead to exquisite detail in both images and spectra. That means that we get very sensitive observations, as well as information about how the different parts of the galaxy are moving. We can study galaxies at the other end of the Universe as they merge and create huge numbers of stars. This is the kind of stuff that gets me up in the morning!”

The scope of this study is massive, the results are significant and impressive given the size and scope of the galaxy being documented, and the amount of future research that will take place from this is clearly going to have significant influence on the world of astronomy as a whole.

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