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Monthly Archives: January 2017

From a press release of the Space Telescope Science Institute, January 26, 2017:

By using galaxies as giant gravitational lenses, an international group of astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have made an independent measurement of how fast the Universe is expanding. The newly measured expansion rate for the local Universe is consistent with earlier findings. These are, however, in intriguing disagreement with measurements of the early Universe. This hints at a fundamental problem at the very heart of our understanding of the cosmos.

The Hubble constant — the rate at which the Universe is expanding — is one of the fundamental quantities describing our Universe. A group of astronomers used the Hubble Space Telescope and other telescopes in space and on the ground to observe five galaxies in order to arrive at an independent measurement of the Hubble constant. This new measurement is completely independent of — but in excellent agreement with — other measurements of the Hubble constant in the local Universe that used Cepheid variable stars and supernovae as points of reference.

However, the value measured by this team, as well as those measured using Cepheids and supernovae, are different from the measurement made by the ESA Planck satellite. But there is an important distinction — Planck measured the Hubble constant for the early Universe by observing the cosmic microwave background.

Studied lensed quasars of H0LiCOW collaboration

Credit: ESA/Hubble, NASA, Suyu et al.

The targets of the new study were massive galaxies positioned between Earth and very distant quasars — incredibly luminous galaxy cores. The light from the more distant quasars is bent around the huge masses of the galaxies as a result of strong gravitational lensing. This creates multiple images of the background quasar, some smeared into extended arcs.

Because galaxies do not create perfectly spherical distortions in the fabric of space and the lensing galaxies and quasars are not perfectly aligned, the light from the different images of the background quasar follows paths which have slightly different lengths. Since the brightness of quasars changes over time, astronomers can see the different images flicker at different times, the delays between them depending on the lengths of the paths the light has taken. These delays are directly related to the value of the Hubble constant.

Links: the full STScI press release, including further figures and links to published papers.