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Let’s pause here for a moment of perspective. We are now discussing numbers by which even astronomers sometimes feel overwhelmed. The Coma cluster may have 10, 20, or 30 thousand galaxies, and each galaxy has billions and billions of stars. If you were traveling at the speed of light, it would still take you more than 10 million years (longer than the history of the human species) to cross this giant swarm of galaxies. And if you lived on a planet on the outskirts of one of these galaxies, many other members of the cluster would be close enough to be noteworthy sights in your nighttime sky.

Central region of the coma cluster.

Small Galaxies Outnumber Large Galaxies. This combined visible-light image from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and infrared Spitzer Space Telescope view of the central region of the Coma Cluster has been color coded so that faint dwarf galaxies are seen as green. Large ellipticals and spirals are few compared to the number of dwarf galaxies.
This combined visible-light (from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey) and infrared (from the Spitzer Space Telescope) image has been color coded so that faint dwarf galaxies are seen as green. Note the number of little green smudges on the image. The cluster is roughly 320 million light-years away from us. (credit: modification of work by NASA/JPL-Caltech/L. Jenkins (GSFC))

Really rich clusters such as Coma usually have a high concentration of galaxies near the center. We can see giant elliptical galaxies in these central regions but few, if any, spiral galaxies. The spirals that do exist generally occur on the outskirts of clusters.

We might say that ellipticals are highly “social”: they are often found in groups and very much enjoy “hanging out” with other ellipticals in crowded situations. It is precisely in such crowds that collisions are most likely and, as we discussed earlier, we think that most large ellipticals are built through mergers of smaller galaxies.

Spirals, on the other hand, are more “shy”: they are more likely to be found in poor clusters or on the edges of rich clusters where collisions are less likely to disrupt the spiral arms or strip out the gas needed for continued star formation.

Gravitational lensing

As we saw in Black Holes and Curved Spacetime , spacetime is more strongly curved in regions where the gravitational field is strong. Light passing very near a concentration of matter appears to follow a curved path. In the case of starlight passing close to the Sun, we measure the position of the distant star to be slightly different from its true position.

Now let’s consider the case of light from a distant galaxy or quasar that passes near a concentration of matter such as a cluster of galaxies on its journey to our telescopes. According to general relativity, the light path may be bent in a variety of ways; as a result we can observe distorted and even multiple images ( [link] ).

Gravitational lensing.

Illustration of Gravitational Lensing. At left is a blue ball labeled “Observer on Earth”. At center a “Galaxy” is drawn as a white ellipse, and at far right a “Quasar” is drawn as a white circle. Two yellow arrows are drawn from the quasar pointing to the left representing light from the quasar. One points horizontally and one points at an angle toward the bottom center of the diagram. Where these arrows are closest to the galaxy at center, they change direction, with each arrow now pointing toward Earth. The angle between the arrows where they contact Earth is labeled with the Greek letter “theta”. To the observer on Earth looking along the lines separated by “theta”, two images of the quasar would appear: “Image A” above the galaxy, and “Image B” below the galaxy.
This drawing shows how a gravitational lens can make two images. Two light rays from a distant quasar are shown being bent while passing a foreground galaxy; they then arrive together at Earth. Although the two beams of light contain the same information, they now appear to come from two different points on the sky. This sketch is oversimplified and not to scale, but it gives a rough idea of the lensing phenomenon.

Gravitational lenses can produce not only double images, as shown in [link] , but also multiple images, arcs, or rings. The first gravitational lens discovered, in 1979, showed two images of the same distant object. Eventually, astronomers used the Hubble Space Telescope to capture remarkable images of the effects of gravitational lenses. One example is shown in [link] .

Multiple images of a gravitationally lensed supernova.

Multiple Images of a Gravitationally-lensed Supernova. The background image is of a distant galaxy cluster through which the light of an even more distant supernova has passed (white box at center). The enlargement at right shows the four images of the supernova (arrowed) around the lensing galaxy.
Light from a supernova at a distance of 9 billion light-years passed near a galaxy in a cluster at a distance of about 5 billion light-years. In the enlarged inset view of the galaxy, the arrows point to the multiple images of the exploding star. The images are arranged around the galaxy in a cross-shaped pattern called an Einstein Cross. The blue streaks wrapping around the galaxy are the stretched images of the supernova’s host spiral galaxy, which has been distorted by the warping of space. (credit: modification of work by NASA, ESA, and S. Rodney (JHU) and the FrontierSN team; T. Treu (UCLA), P. Kelly (UC Berkeley), and the GLASS team; J. Lotz (STScI) and the Frontier Fields team; M. Postman (STScI) and the CLASH team; and Z. Levay (STScI))

General relativity predicts that the light from a distant object may also be amplified by the lensing effect, thereby making otherwise invisible objects bright enough to detect. This is particularly useful for probing the earliest stages of galaxy formation, when the universe was young. [link] shows an example of a very distant faint galaxy that we can study in detail only because its light path passes through a large concentration of massive galaxies and we now see a brighter image of it.

Distorted images of a distant galaxy produced by gravitational lensing in a galaxy cluster.

Distorted Images of a Distant Galaxy Produced by Gravitational Lensing in a Galaxy Cluster. The distorted images of the galaxy are circled in white and lie outside the galaxy cluster at the center of the image. A small box near the center of the cluster marks the position of the background galaxy being lensed by the cluster. The image in the large box at lower left is a reconstruction of what the lensed galaxy would look like in the absence of the cluster.
The rounded outlines show the location of distinct, distorted images of the background galaxy resulting from lensing by the mass in the cluster. The image in the box at lower left is a reconstruction of what the lensed galaxy would look like in the absence of the cluster, based on a model of the cluster’s mass distribution, which can be derived from studying the distorted galaxy images. The reconstruction shows far more detail about the galaxy than could have been seen in the absence of lensing. As the image shows, this galaxy contains regions of star formation glowing like bright Christmas tree bulbs. These are much brighter than any star-formation regions in our Milky Way Galaxy. (credit: modification of work by NASA, ESA, and Z. Levay (STScI))

We should note that the visible mass in a galaxy is not the only possible gravitational lens. Dark matter can also reveal itself by producing this effect. Astronomers are using lensed images from all over the sky to learn more about where dark matter is located and how much of it exists.

Questions & Answers

understanding astronomy
ricardo Reply
What About Understanding Astronomy?
Adam
yap
Janmarc
what is astronomy?
Janmarc
define..
Janmarc
Currently, I'm studying in 10th grade. What should I do after my 10th so that I can get an astronomy career?
Chaya Reply
try jee exam and achieve a good score in jee advance to join in IIST(Space research institute)
Sri
okay.. thanks
Chaya
this famous person was the first to recognise earthshine on the moin
Rajan Reply
Leonardo Da Vinci.....
Adam
what is string theory?
sakshi Reply
A Cosmological Theory Based On The Exsistence Of Cosmic Vibrating Strings.....
Adam
Does MIT have good astrophysics courses ?
priyanshu Reply
Probably The Best In The United States.....
Adam
But Don't Get Caught Up On Who's The Best, You Can Be The Next Noble Winning Astrophysicist.....
Adam
hmmm..........that's nice one....Adam had said.....
Gospel
How did ASTRONOMY helped you understand yourself ? 🤔
Hussain Reply
why do you want to study ASTRONOMY?
Hussain Reply
It is one of the natural sciences and therefore worth exploring. You are a part of the universe and it is a part of you. The sky is my classroom. (student of cosmology, Oxford Uni)
SuperNova
because everything in the space is just beautiful...interesting and worth studying and exploring...
Memo
I have been studying astrophysics an love it
Carla
I love to learn what makes up our lives an heavens an how it works there us so much more out there than books an our veiw of thw heavens can reveal
Carla
How did ASTRONOMY helped you understand yourself ?
Hussain
Because it proves the impossibles and the limitless.
Dark
It helped me realize that there are like countless possibilities in life and get all through it.
Dark
It honestly showed me to view the world in a balanced way. Because space beautiful and calm yet violent, and so is the world, and we should still help, but there will always be violent people much like violent astrophysical jets.
Da
Does anyone know where can I study astronomy in Spain? My budget is too low for traveling out there...
Valerian Reply
How long the duration was when the laws of physics became active after the big bang?And why the time is called plank's time?
Mostak Reply
how many galaxies in universe?
Shaikh Reply
10 to the power 11
Wwe
testing
Ahmad
thnx
Shaikh
if u can count all the sands on the beaches and on the deserts then u will know how much it will be.......some said more than 1,000,000,000 galaxies are there in our universe...
Gospel
it's ok bro
Wwe
I hope you will become a member of nasa
Wwe
just new in this area, from art background not science
Ahmad
what's ur name wwe
Shaikh
The Observable Universe Contains Between 200 Billion To 2 Trillion Galaxies.....
Adam
are u sure?
Caleb
It actually hasn't been proven, people have just made estimations.
Ariana
the thing is u can't count,maybe the our number system will collapse there...who knows?
Abdullah
What's the exact time when the laws of physics became active after the big bang ?
Mostak
Actually we still don't know the exact number of galaxies in the universe, since the universe is bigger than we can imagine and it is still expanding even bigger today than yesterday
Ismaee
we didn't actually find the exact number but may be it is around 100 billion
Smridhi
why this universe is expanding?
ATUL
Science Does Not Concern It Self With Why Questions, Science Is Geared For How And What Questions.....
Adam
Why Questions Form And Endless Loop.....
Adam
According to the universal law of cause and effect .any phenomenon that occur in this universe should have any reason , nothing happen without any reason.
ATUL
Can you tell me the expanding speed of this universe.
ATUL
yes that would be a great question to have answered what is the expanding speed of the universe?
Daijahrel
Remember that most of what you can see is light years away. We're looking back in time, we can never know the current nature of our observations, only glimpse the galaxies and stars as they once were. Strange but true, and a little sad.
SuperNova
Correct, That's Why Telescopes Are Like Time Machines, You See The Past.....
Adam
really telescope can see the past?....i meant everything is in its place, though it rotates or revolve or whatever it is.......but how can this telescope can see the past.....can we see how our Universe was created,how it formed out of it? thats my question to all of you guys can you plz tell me.
Gospel
Because We Dont See Any Object In Space As It Is, We See It As It Was..... Hope This Clears That Up For You.....
Adam
And One Day We Might Have A Telescope That Will Show Us The Big Bang.....
Adam
ok....... that will be nice one
Gospel
ok....... that will be nice one
Gospel
Travel at light speed in a spaceship at 186,000 miles every SECOND. At this speed it will take you 100,000 years just to cross our Milky Way galaxy, which is just a dot in the sky. Next stop, the Andromeda galaxy, after 2.5 million years, still in the Local Group, Virgo Supercluster, still a dot.
SuperNova
Pretty Much.....
Adam
there are nearly 200 million I suppose.
Amit
hi i need a telescope would you help mee
Nauman Reply
i can only advice you to go to some museum
Gospel
wher is it?
Nauman
but before that.......... i wanna know where are you from and from which state...and if you are nearer to that of the museum or will be able to go then.,.. i donot have any more words.
Gospel
What Do Plan To Observe?
Adam
sorry . i am from asia
Nauman
Check on amazon.Celeston telescopes are good for beginners.
priyanshu
can yoy introduce your self
Nauman
can you
Nauman
Asia...? from which country you belong into ...,,is it India or where?
Gospel
Do You Want A Telescope With ALot Of Maintenance Or Zero Maintenance?
Adam
pakistan
Nauman
with alot offf
Nauman
Any second hand online stores in your area? great for unused Christmas gifts etc..
Collins
So You Want A Newtonian Reflector?
Adam
hey guys I wanna ask you all that will it be safe or helpful to communicate with an intelligent civilization like are we safe ?
Samuel
Is the Orion Sky Quest XT6 a good Dobsonian?
TheDirtyGhost
Look for a Sky Watcher 130BKS, it has an upgraded dual speed 2" focuser. You can use 1.25" or 2" eyepieces with it and it is quite easy to pollinate using a simple visual collimating eyepiece. This scope is great and ready for prime focus astrophotography if you choose to go that route.
Robert
Sorry, spell check error. Pollinate should be collimate. lol
Robert
Dobsonians Require A Lot Of Maintenance, If You Don't Mind Cleaning And Collimating On A Regular Basis, Then Go Ahead A Dobsonian Puts Up Excellent Views Especially For Deep Space Objects..... Now If You Don't Want Constant Maintenance Then A Schmidt Cassegrain Might Be A Better Fit For You.....
Adam
So what i would put for that answer ?
Abdulla Reply
The largest observatory complex in the world is on Mauna Kea, the tallest mountain on Earth. Whatare some factors astronomers consider when selecting an observatory site? Don’t forget practical ones.Should astronomers, for example, consider building an observatory on Denali (Mount McKinley) or MountEverest?
Abdulla Reply
i need help on the the second part
Abdulla
Should astronomers for example considered building an observatory on Denali (Mount Mckinley) or MountEverest ?
Abdulla
I would take into consideration. climate weather pattern.
basim
also, could an establishment be built and be able to sustain years of being beaten by the weather?
basim
so far Mount Everest to my understanding is a difficult mountain
basim
it is because of light pollution in the cities that the observatories are situated in extremely remote areas.
Ashish
Everest ist the tallest mountain
Paul
how far us milky way galaxy?
ShowsSpy Reply
oh man
madison
We are part of the Milky Way Galaxy. We are within it, so it's not really away from us. Our galaxy is 100,000 light years in diameter. The nearest big galaxy is Andromeda, around 2 million lightyears away.
Jignesh
its 200,000 light years
Gospel
Where is Rice University located?
Amanda Reply
it is in your vagina
world
that couldn't be any more wrong 😂😂
jay
what even is this conversation😂😂!?
Herrera
Show Some Class.....
Adam
Houston, Texas.....
Adam
Houston
Preston
Practice Key Terms 6

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Source:  OpenStax, Astronomy. OpenStax CNX. Apr 12, 2017 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11992/1.13
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