Glimpses Of Galaxies Far, Far Away

11:03 minutes

This is part of our collaboration with Zooniverse and the Space Warps research team to identify brand new gravitational lenses. Want to hunt for gravitational lenses and contribute to scientific discovery? Go to spacewarps.org to help astronomers identify these special gravitational mirages!

Last week we asked you to help us spot galaxies magnified by other galaxies—a phenomenon known as gravitational lensing. The project is called Space Warps, and it’s a collaboration with astrophysicists and the citizen science platform Zooniverse. Over a million galactic glimpses later, we’re ready to reveal what we found—including a galaxy more than seven billion light years away, and what appears to be a rare triple galactic lens.

[Did you know that pollens preserve better than larger plants? Take it from a paleobotanist.]

Lens candidate 21035634 discovered in Space Warps. Credit: HSC

For example, this candidate gravitational lens caught the eye of @Dolorous_Edd. The blue arc is visible through an extended envelope of stars from the lens galaxy. This particular lens is about six to seven billion light years away, but researchers say that they expect to discover dozens of lenses to be located even farther away than this one.

Astronomers discovered the “Cheshire Cat” gravitational lens using lower resolution imagery from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey in 2008 (left). Then NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and the Chandra X-ray Observatory zoomed in for a close-up (right). That’s an example of what will happen next for the most promising candidates revealed in the Spacewarps challenge—astronomers will zoom in for glamour shots that reveal more about the galaxies’ structure and composition.

Credit: Sloan Digital Sky Survey
Credit: NASA/CXC/UA/J.Irwin et al; Optical: NASA/STScI


In this wrap-up segment, Space Warps co-founder Aprajita Verma and Zooniverse co-lead Laura Trouille share their favorite finds, and suggest a few other projects for armchair astronomers to dig into next.

Segment Guests

Aprajita Verma

Aprajita Verma is co-founder of Spacewarps, and a senior researcher in astrophysics at the University of Oxford in Oxford, England.

Laura Trouille

Laura Trouille is Director of Citizen Science and Co-I for Zooniverse. She’s based at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, Illinois.

Meet the Producer

About Christopher Intagliata

Christopher Intagliata is Science Friday’s senior producer. He once served as a prop in an optical illusion and speaks passable Ira Flatowese.

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