Explained: What is gravitational lensing?https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/this-word-means-gravitational-lensing-5936335/

Explained: What is gravitational lensing?

The phenomenon occurs when a huge amount of matter, such as a massive galaxy or cluster of galaxies, creates a gravitational field that distorts and magnifies the light from objects behind it, but in the same line of sight, NASA explained on its website.

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A Hubble Space Telescope image of the galaxy SDSS J1226+2152, being magnified and distorted by the immense gravity of a galaxy cluster in front of it. It is one of four galaxies that will be studied with Webb. (Source: NASA)

Using NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope as a sort of time machine, researchers plan to investigate how new stars are born. For this, they will take the help of a natural phenomenon called “gravitational lensing”.

The phenomenon occurs when a huge amount of matter, such as a massive galaxy or cluster of galaxies, creates a gravitational field that distorts and magnifies the light from objects behind it, but in the same line of sight, NASA explained on its website.

In effect, these are natural, cosmic telescopes; they are called gravitational lenses. These large celestial objects will magnify the light from distant galaxies that are at or near the peak of star formation. The effect allows researchers to study the details of early galaxies too far away to be seen otherwise with even the most powerful space telescopes.

“We’re studying four galaxies that appear much, much brighter than they actually are, because they’ve been highly magnified up to 50 times. We’ll use gravitational lenses to study how those galaxies are forming their stars, and how that star formation is distributed across the galaxies,” principal investigator Jane Rigby said in a NASA statement.

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The Milky Way today forms the equivalent of one Sun every year, but in the past, that rate was up to 100 times greater. NASA now plans to look billions of years into the past in order to understand how our Sun formed.

The programme is called Targeting Extremely Magnified Panchromatic Lensed Arcs and Their Extended Star Formation, or TEMPLATES. While it is an acronym, the meaning of TEMPLATES goes deeper, NASA said — the programme will set a template for future studies.