The NASA astronomers have for the first time spotted a distant supernova split into four celestial images.
The space scientists used NASA’s Hubble space telescope to detect the multiple images of the exploding star that are triggered by the powerful gravity of a foreground elliptical galaxy which is embedded in a giant cluster of galaxies.
According to the researchers, the unique observation will help them in refining their estimates of the dark matter’s mass in the lensing galaxy and cluster.
Most of the mass of the universe is formed of an invisible form of matter called Dark matter.
Lead study author Patrick Kelly, from the University of California, said, “It really threw me for a loop when I spotted the four images surrounding the galaxy – it was a complete surprise.”
The elliptical galaxy and its galaxy cluster, named MACS J1149.6+2223, are five billion light-years away from the Earth. The supernova which is behind it is 9.3 billion light-years away.
With the fading of the four photos, the astronomers made the predictions that they will again get a rare opportunity to witness the supernova. This is due to the current four-image pattern which is only one component of the display of lensing.
The supernova has likely appeared as a single photo approximately 20 years ago elsewhere in the cluster field, and it may reappear once more in nearly a decade.
According to the scientists, the measurement of the time delays between the photographs will offer greater clues to the type of warped-space terrain possessed by the light of supernova to cover and will also help the astronomers in fine-tuning the models that map out the cluster’s mass.
NASA astronomers said, “We will measure the time delays, and we will go back and compare to the model predictions of the light path.”
The research paper was published in the special issue of journal Science on the occasion of centenary of Albert Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity.