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An Exploration of Gravitational Lensing

Astronomers have a brand new set of glasses


By Aron McCart
ARON MCCART
861 S. Rogers, Springfield, MO 65804 (417) 838-9686 mccart300@missouristate.edu

March 1, 2009
Mrs. Tracy Dalton
Missouri State University
901 S. National Ave.
Springfield MO, 65897
Dear Mrs. Tracy Dalton:
I am writing you to express what I experienced while writing my major project. The major
project has been quite the journey. It is not only the longest paper I have ever written, but also I
have never had to research any subject so thoroughly only because I had very little prior
knowledge about my subject. In the beginning, I set out to explore gravitational lensing as a
graduate school topic, and I firmly believe that I accomplished my goal.

During the initial prewriting and outlining process, I felt rather confident about how this paper
would turn out; however, I did not realize the depth of my own ignorance regarding gravitational
lensing at the time. As a consequence, I had to read an entire book—that I later used significantly
throughout my paper—on Einstein’s theory of general relativity only to begin to comprehend
gravitational lensing. I did not stop there either. I was forced to look up many acronyms and
various technical terms in order to comprehend the peer-reviewed research I used. Acronyms can
be quite needlessly misleading in my opinion. For example, a “QSO” is a “quasi-stellar-object”
or more simply a quasar, and I already knew what a quasar was.

Because I had to do so much research, I had a lot of subject to cover. I intended from the
beginning to explore gravitational lensing, so in order to solidify my understanding of the
science behind gravitational lensing, I wrote a significant section dedicated to just the science
that came before gravitational lensing. This not only helped me understand gravitational lensing,
but it will also help the audience understand the subject as well because the paper took on a tone
for the lay. I do not distress over this though; besides that fact that proofreading a 12,000 word
paper is not easy, I enjoyed covering a topic without feeling like I had to omit important sections.

In short, this paper has been an enjoyable, albeit time consuming, experience. Without writing a
paper of this magnitude, I do not believe I could have ever understood gravitational lensing the
way I do without taking a class on it.

Sincerely,

Aron McCart
Gravitational Lensing i

An Exploration of Gravitational Lensing


Astronomers Have a Brand New Set of Glasses

By Aron McCart

(Cover art source: www.nasaimages.org)

ENG 321: Writing II: Beginning Technical Writing


Instructor: Tracy Dalton
April 20, 2009
Missouri State University
Gravitational Lensing ii

TABLE OF CONTENTS
List of Figures ............................................................................................................................... iii
Abstract ......................................................................................................................................... iv
Introduction ................................................................................................................................... 1
The Problem ................................................................................................................................ 1
What is Gravitational lensing ...................................................................................................... 2
Background Science ...................................................................................................................... 2
Special Relativity ........................................................................................................................ 3
Relativity and the constant speed of light ................................................................................ 3
Time dilation............................................................................................................................ 4
Loss of simultaneity................................................................................................................. 6
Four-dimensional dimensional spacetime ............................................................................... 6
General Relativity ....................................................................................................................... 7
The Equivalence Principle ....................................................................................................... 7
The effects of time on acceleration and gravity ...................................................................... 8
The bending of light ................................................................................................................ 9
Curved Space ......................................................................................................................... 10
Theoretical Background ............................................................................................................. 13
Strong Lensing .......................................................................................................................... 14
Weak Lensing ............................................................................................................................ 15
Microlensing.............................................................................................................................. 15
The Bayesian Method of Analysis ............................................................................................ 15
The Process .................................................................................................................................. 16
Obtaining the Data .................................................................................................................... 16
Computer Modeling .................................................................................................................. 17
Applications ................................................................................................................................. 18
Exoplanet Detection .................................................................................................................. 18
Accretion Disk Theory .............................................................................................................. 19
Dark Matter Detection ............................................................................................................... 20
Big Bang Cosmology ................................................................................................................ 20
Conclusion ................................................................................................................................... 21
References .................................................................................................................................... 22
Gravitational Lensing iii

LIST OF FIGURES
Figure 1 ............................................................................................................................................1
Figure 2 ............................................................................................................................................1
Figure 3 ............................................................................................................................................2
Figure 4 ............................................................................................................................................2
Figure 5 ............................................................................................................................................4
Figure 6 ............................................................................................................................................6
Figure 7 ............................................................................................................................................6
Figure 8 ............................................................................................................................................8
Figure 9 ............................................................................................................................................8
Figure 10 ..........................................................................................................................................8
Figure 11 ........................................................................................................................................10
Figure 12 ........................................................................................................................................10
Figure 13 ........................................................................................................................................11
Figure 14 ........................................................................................................................................11
Figure 15 ........................................................................................................................................11
Figure 16 ........................................................................................................................................12
Figure 17 ........................................................................................................................................13
Figure 18 ........................................................................................................................................14
Figure 19 ........................................................................................................................................14
Figure 20 ........................................................................................................................................15
Figure 21 ........................................................................................................................................17
Figure 22 ........................................................................................................................................17
Figure 23 ........................................................................................................................................20
Gravitational Lensing iv

ABSTRACT
With advances in computer science and image analysis, it is now possible to use Einstein’s
general relativity to analyze the light that has been distorted by gravity; this allows for
astronomers to examine astronomical phenomena with an entire new set of glasses. Einstein’s
theories of special and general relativity lay the foundation for gravitational lensing. With this
description of gravity, astronomers are able to interpret and analyze the light that is affected by
a gravitational lens. Consequently, this allows for much advancement in astronomy not limited
to exoplanet detection, accretion disk theory, dark matter detection, and big bang cosmology.

Keywords: astronomy, gravitational lensing, relativity, science, physics, exoplanet, accretion


disk theory, dark matter, dark energy, cosmology, big bang.
Gravitational Lensing 1

INTRODUCTION
Astronomy is the oldest science known to man. Before most people lived in cities, there were no
bright city lights to wash out the beauty of the night sky. It was during this time that people used
the only set of glasses they had—their eyes. Over thousands of years, with great advancements in
technology, astronomers gained access to telescopes. These telescopes showed that patches of
sky that were black to the unaided eye were not black at all. In fact, as telescopes got bigger and
better, it was apparent that there were no empty patches of sky. Modern astronomy is the
scientific inquiry of the cosmos, and Galileo, with his radical idea that Earth was not the center
of universe, marked the beginning of modern astronomy. His quest to find out why certain stars
wandered led to the discovery that the Earth was not the center of the universe and to the
discovery of planetary motion. As astronomers answered more and more questions, an even
greater number of questions emerged. When NASA began launching space telescopes at the
dawn of the space age, the view of the cosmos changed dramatically (see figures 1 and 2).

Figure 1 (Before): This is the center of the galaxy from the 10 meter Figure 2 (After): This is the center of the galaxy from the 0.85 meter Spitzer space telescope.
Keck telescope. Source: keckobservatory.org Note that Keck’s image is greatly magnified. Source: nasaimages.org

Astronomers were no longer held back by the distortion of the Earth’s atmosphere; what
astronomers began to see gave rise to new mysteries—mysteries that astronomers set out to
solve. This is where the motivation for methods like gravitational lensing comes from. It is the
ultimate goal of astronomers to answer the big questions about the cosmos, and as astronomers
solve tiny pieces of the puzzle, it gets much harder.

THE PROBLEM
Astronomy is a very interesting science. All other science is almost exclusively done on Earth
where scientists have plenty of material to test in their labs. However, in astronomy, astronomers
are not granted this luxury. In turn, astronomers almost always rely on light for observational
evidence. This is not discouraging because astronomers can learn a lot just by looking.
Some of the classical techniques of astronomy are spectroscopy, photometry, polarimetry, and
astrometry. These have been keeping astronomers busy for hundreds of years and are still doing
so. Astronomers use these techniques to study various physical properties about things that emit
or reflect light. For example, spectroscopy can determine the composition of things reliably.
Gravitational Lensing 2

Spectroscopy does this by examining the specific frequencies of light an object reflects or emits.
Scientists (chemists) examine the light frequencies of materials here on Earth, in controlled
environments, and determine what materials look like with a spectrometer. Astronomers then
take this and look at the stars with it. This is just an example of how astronomers can determine
physical properties using only light.
The classical methods of astronomy work great when we have complete observational data;
however, this is certainly not the case when light is extremely distorted and other data is missing.
Massive objects, like galaxies or stars, bend light due to their gravity. General relativity tells us
this light arrives at us demagnified and even at different times. This presents an enormous
challenge to astronomers because without information from light we are essentially helpless.
Gravitational lensing is what astronomers believe will be part of the answer to this problem.

WHAT IS GRAVITATIONAL LENSING


Gravitational lensing is the method astronomers use to interpret light that has been distorted by
gravity. Gravitational lensing is the first method to involve Einstein’s general relativity
extensively. With general relativity physicists know that light is bent by super massive objects,
as can be seen in figures 3 and 4. Gravitational lensing allows for an independent method of
estimating an objects mass. Einstein’s relativity introduces the idea that spacetime is molded into
different forms by matter.

Figure 3: Behind the golden sphere is an overlaid picture of what a Figure 4: This is an actual image from the Hubble Space Telescope with lensing events. Notice
lensing event looks like. The golden sphere is a representation of a the long arcs that make a rough circle around the largest white object just to the right of the
very massive object, which is usually a galaxy. The gray lines picture’s center. Those arcs were originally a complete image of a quasar before the white
represent the actual path of the light while the orange lines represent object’s gravity distorted it. Source: nasaimgages.org
the apparent path of the light. The orange arcs that the orange arrows
are from are the resultant image. Source: centauri-dreams.org

Gravitational lensing accounts for the effects that general relativity predicts. It takes those effects
into account in order to interpret the source’s light or object causing the spacetime distortions.
Astronomers accomplish this by precise measurements of the source object’s brightness and
incredibly advanced computer simulations.

BACKGROUND SCIENCE
When examining scientific concepts, it is always crucial to understand the science that the
science at hand is built upon. Without an understanding of basic scientific concepts, the
Gravitational Lensing 3

foundation new theories are built upon (or are derived from) are nearly impossible to understand.
Here is a summary of the concepts relevant to gravitational lensing contained within Einstein’s
theories of special and general relativity.

SPECIAL RELATIVITY
Special relativity is how physicists measure things like motion with regards to a frame of
reference. For example, measuring the motion of a ball that is sitting at rest on the floor is not
always very simple. It is, in fact, not at rest: The Earth is moving around the sun at all times, and
the sun is orbiting the center of the galaxy, and even our galaxy is moving. This is the main idea
that caused Albert Einstein to propose special relativity in 1905. Keep in mind that special
relativity always deals with inertial frames only. An inertial frame is a reference frame tied to the
constant motion of a specific object. Within this reference frame, all the laws of physics apply
with predictable behavior.
Special relativity proposes several counter-intuitive concepts relative to gravitational lensing
some of which are as follows:
Relativity and the constant speed of light
Time dilation
Loss of simultaneity
4 dimensional spacetime
Relativity and the constant speed of light
Imagine riding in a low flying (less than a few hundred meters so it is apparent the Earth is flying
by underneath) jet airplane flying at a constant speed. Without looking out the window or being
present during the take off it would be impossible to tell if anyone or anything was moving at all.
If a person looked out the window and saw the trees or buildings flying by at incredible speeds, it
would not be possible to tell if the airplane or the Earth was moving. Without special equipment,
it is not possible to tell who *or what is moving. In fact, as already stated, the Earth is moving
around the sun, the sun is moving around the galaxy, and the entire galaxy is moving relative to
our local cluster. In the jet airplane example, it would be much more difficult to measure what is
moving taking into account all of these variables. In order to deal with this problem, physicists
say all motion is relative; in other words, the plane is moving 200 miles per hour relative to the
Earth’s surface. This is known as the principle of relativity (Stannard, 2008).
Taking into account this principle of relativity, imagine a battleship moving at a constant 45
miles per hour through the ocean. When the battleship fires a training round directly ahead of it,
the training round leaves the barrel traveling at 750 miles per hour relative to the motion of the
boat. If one remembers the boat was moving before the training round was fired, it becomes clear
that training round is actually traveling at 795 miles per hour relative to the ocean. This is how
physicists added velocities before Einstein’s general relativity. However, this fails to be accurate
at speeds that are a significant fraction of the speed of light (Stannard, 2008).
It may not be intuitive that light has a speed, but it most certainly does. Using Maxwell’s laws of
electromagnetism and extremely sensitive equipment, physicists have been able to show that
light speeds through a vacuum at 299,792,458 kilometers per second or about 186,000,000 miles
per second. In order to see if light behaved as the training round did when fired from the
battleship, European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) physicists set out to do this in a
Gravitational Lensing 4

particle accelerator in 1964. They accelerated tiny subatomic particles, or neutral pions, to
99.975 percent the speed of light. When these particles decayed, two pulses of light were sent off
in different directions moving at the usual speed of light (measured with a 1 percent margin of
error). This has been found to be true in all cases (e.g. the speed of light is the same from any one
perspective), but this is a clear contradiction with the battleship example. If the way physicists
added the speeds in the battleship example do not hold here, then something is clearly wrong.
This was one of the many things Einstein took note of before publishing his paper on general
(not special) relativity—something is wrong about the way physicists are relating objects moving
through space (Stannard, 2008).
Time dilation
The best way to illustrate time dilation is to imagine an
astronaut in a transparent spacecraft orbiting the Earth at about
25 percent the speed of light (no one can actually accelerate
spacecraft to this speed). The astronaut is instructed to place a
laser at the bottom of the spacecraft’s cabin and point it
Figure 5: This is a diagram of how time dilation works.
directly up at a target on the spacecraft’s ceiling, which is 4 Each red square represents the lasers position at a
meters away (see figure 5). The astronaut is then instructed by particular instant in time. The vertical laser pulse is the
the ground controller to measure the time it takes for the laser laser seen from the astronaut’s perspective while the
diagonal laser is the one seen from the perspective of
to travel from the bottom of the cabin to the target. The the ground observer.
astronaut finds that the time it took was as follows:
Recall from college algebra that distance equals rate times time or the familiar .
Therefore,

And in our case,

So,

Keep in mind that there are one billion nanoseconds for every one normal second. When the
ground controller measures how long the laser took from his perspective something odd happens.
To the controller, it appears that the light traveled a diagonal path of 5 meters because the
spacecraft has moved since laser was emitted (see figure 5). So for the controller the time it took
for the laser to travel its apparent distance is as follows:

There is a disagreement between the astronaut and the controller here; a disagreement of over 3
nanoseconds, but both are correct from their perspectives. The only way for this disagreement to
be reconciled is to conclude that time for the astronaut is moving slower than it is for the ground
controller. This makes absolutely no sense. If the astronaut were to measure the time it took for
other things to happen on the spacecraft to verify this, the astronaut would be very confused to
Gravitational Lensing 5

find that everything appears completely normal, which means that to the astronaut, time is not
moving slower. It becomes clear to both the astronaut and the controller that time is not passing
by at the same rate. This is called time dilation (Stannard, 2008).
This has some interesting consequences. It means that when an object is moving, time slows
down from the outside observer’s perspective. When a different astronaut in a different
spacecraft travels away from Earth, time is moving slower for the astronaut from the perspective
of the ground controller on Earth; however, looking at things from the perspective of the
astronaut is pertinent before making any conclusions. Assuming that both the astronaut and the
ground controller are holding miniature atomic clocks, what should these two clocks read when
compared to each other? It has already been established in the previous astronaut/controller
example that time is moving slower on the spacecraft from the controller’s perspective, so it is
reasonable to assume that the new astronaut’s time will move slower from the perspective of the
ground controller. One way to examine this is to compare the clocks. To do this the controller
and astronaut constantly monitor each other’s clocks by sending signals back and forth. Taking
into account the time it takes for the signal to move, the astronaut clock does indeed appear
slower to the controller. However, what is bizarre is that the controller’s clock appears slow from
the astronaut’s perspective using the exact same method. It seems that both clocks are moving
slower than each other, so whose clock is really going slower? This is an absolutely meaningless
question because there is no answer. Both assessments are correct because there is no absolute
rate that time passes by; it is relative (Stannard, 2008).
Remembering that time is relative, examining the famous twin paradox will illustrate the next
point well. Take two twins, leave one on Earth, and put the other on a spacecraft that is destined
to travel to a distant place and back. Keeping the idea that from either twin’s perspective the
other’s time appears slower, it is apparent that both people are aging slower than the other. This
is utter nonsense and a complete impossibility. The only way to reconcile this is to realize that
this example requires the act of calculating the apparent rate at which time passes. Because there
is no universal clock, the only way to see whose time is really moving slower is to compare the
clocks side by side. In this example, the spacecraft must accelerate to a speed, decelerate, turn
around, and accelerate back to Earth. Upon the astronaut twin’s arrival, it is apparent that the
astronaut twin came back younger than his terrestrial twin. It is important to note that this
example has not violated the principle of relativity by revealing whose time is really moving
slower, because the astronaut twin did not maintain an inertial frame during the whole trip. The
astronaut had to turn around and accelerate in the opposite direction. The principle of relativity
only applies to inertial frame observers (Stannard, 2008).
The realization that there is no universal clock may be disorientating to some people. However,
this effect is so infinitesimally small that we can and do ignore it. A real astronaut orbiting in the
space shuttle actual speed around 17,000 miles per hour (less than 1% the speed of light) will age
only a few milliseconds slower than the rest of us over the course of astronaut’s career (Stannard,
2008).
This is an interesting theory after all, but does it hold up under experimentation? The answer is
overwhelmingly yes. In 1977, CERN physicists set out to prove time dilation by experimenting
with muons, which are subatomic particles that usually decay in about 2200 nanoseconds. When
physicists accelerated these muons to over 99 percent the speed of light they found that the
muons decayed 29.3 times slower than the muons that were not moving. Experiments involving
Gravitational Lensing 6

two atomic clocks (the most accurate clocks known to man), one on a fast moving airplane and
the other on the ground, also confirmed the validity of time dilation. Not forgetting the twin
paradox, muons that were accelerated to one position and returned to the starting position came
back younger than muons that were stationary during the experiment (Stannard, 2008).
Loss of simultaneity
Generally, it is taught that things either happen before or after one another or at the same time,
but time, in fact, is affected by speed. The speed of something can, and does, affect the perceived
simultaneity of events. Imagine a long rocket ship orbiting the Earth at a significant fraction of
the speed of light. There is a double-sided laser pointer placed in the center of the rocket ship’s
cabin pointing both ends at the front and back of the cabin (see figures 6 and 7). As one would
expect, the laser hits the front and back of the rocket ship at the exact same time, but only to the

Figure 6: This diagram is from the astronaut’s perspective. In these figures each Figure 7: This diagram is from the perspective of an observer on the ground. Notice
red square represents the lasers position at a particular instant in time. Notice that that the laser arrives at the front of the spacecraft because the spacecraft is moving
the laser hits both sides of the rocket ship at the exact same time. relative to the ground observer’s inertial frame.

astronaut on the rocket ship. An observer on the ground would see the laser hit the front of the
spacecraft before hitting the back of the spacecraft because the spacecraft is moving relative to
the observer and of a concept that goes beyond the scope of this paper, length contraction. This
allows for light to appear to arrive at different times from different perspectives (Stannard,
2008).

Four-dimensional dimensional spacetime


All the concepts of special relativity lead to the idea that space and time are intrinsically related,
hence, the term spacetime. Instead of moving through space with time passing by, time is
effected by ones position in space in spacetime. In other words, every one lives in a four-
dimensional reality with time being the fourth dimension. This is quite interesting to think about
since people view reality through three dimensions. Some may say that people are aware of time,
but without clocks or the familiar night and day cycle, all people would be helplessly unaware of
the passage of time; people are not born with a way to sense the passage of time (Stannard,
2008).
Living in a four-dimensional reality can be a disconcerting epiphany. This particular idea was
not actually thought by Einstein himself. His teacher, Hermann Minkowski, suggested this idea
to Einstein in 1908 a few years after Einstein published his paper on special relativity.
Minkowski suggested that special relativity was telling Einstein that time is much more like
space than previously realized. Time is simply the fourth spatial dimension instead of the
Gravitational Lensing 7

intuitive three dimensions of space plus one dimension of time. It would be useful to begin to
think of reality where time and space are intrinsically related and inseparable (Stannard, 2008).
Four-dimensional spacetime uses events—do not confuse this with the traditional definition of an
event, which is something that happens (Ask.com, 2009)—instead of positions to represent
location. In a traditional xyz coordinate plane, only distance represents each variable, but in the
spacetime coordinate plane time is represented by ct where c is the speed of light and t is
measured in seconds. Upon multiplying c times t, the seconds cancel out leaving only meters,
and this satisfies the idea that time is the fourth spatial dimension. See the equation below for an
example where time equals 1 second, and pay attention to the algebraic cancellation of the
“second” terms (Stannard, 2008).

Therefore,

Moving on, if one observer was placed directly in front of a parked car and another observer was
placed directly to the side of that same car, these two observers would have a vastly different
viewpoint of the car. As one would expect, the observer in front of the car would see the car’s
headlights, windshield, and the hood. The other observer would see the side doors, the side of the
hood, two wheels, and the side of the trunk. From both of the observers perspectives they do not
see a good portion of the car, but they do not question the existence of the rest of the car. They
both realize that if they were to move around the car they would see the rest of the car and
confirm its existence if they doubted it. Using this idea for spacetime, one must change all 4
variables of spacetime by changing one’s speed. As shown above, observers from inertial frames
moving at different speeds see different perceptions of spacetime. If anyone wanted to move
around a spacetime car—this merely an analogy; in spacetime one should of think of moving
around events not objects—to confirm its existence, they would have to accelerate to speeds near
that of light to accomplish the same thing that changing the angle would do for 3 dimensions
(Stannard, 2008).

GENERAL RELATIVITY
In all the examples of special relativity mentioned above, it has been assumed that speed was
constant that gravity was not a factor. Special relativity is merely one part of the broader general
theory. The general theory includes the effects of gravity and acceleration/deceleration. While a
complete theory of gravity is one of the challenges facing modern physics, general relativity is
still the most accurate description of gravity that scientists have to date.

The Equivalence Principle


Einstein’s genius spotted some very strange things about gravity. Einstein wanted to know how
gravity “knew” how to pull equally on all objects regardless of their mass (It is a well known fact
that an object’s mass does not affect the speed at which an object would fall in free fall as shown
in figure 8 on the next page). Einstein was intrigued by why and how acceleration due to gravity
was different than normal acceleration (Stannard, 2008).
Gravitational Lensing 8

When dealing with motion, it


is nearly impossible to tell the
difference between
gravitational acceleration and
acceleration due to an external
force. For example, if an
astronaut were in a spacecraft
traveling at a constant speed
far from any noticeable
gravitational force, he would
feel a sense of weightlessness
because the spacecraft is not
accelerating in any way.
However, if the astronaut were Figure 9: This is a diagram of a parallel set of lines and Figure 8: This is a diagram of the famous feather
to fall asleep, only to wake up aconverging
converging set of lines. On the left is the path of two
lines and the sphere represents a large
and hammer example. The column on the left
represents normal air and the right column
to find that himself and objects gravitating body. On the right is an example of a parallel represents a vacuum. Each separate hammer or
in his cabin were moving path. The green spheres are objects of small mass, such feather represents in location at an instant of time.
as tennis balls. The gravitating body attracts the tennis On the left column it is clear that the molecules in the
toward the back of the balls towards its center of mass; while on the other hand, air (represented by blue dots) slow the feather down
spacecraft, he would be unable the parallel paths of the right represent what would considerably, which is known formally as drag.
happen during acceleration by an external force, such as Because the hammer’s weight-to-surface-area ratio is
to determine what is causing the rockets boosters. low, it is not slowed down like the feather is. In the
this motion without vacuum example, no such air molecules slow down
the feather, so the hammer and feather fall at the
instrumentation. In fact, it exact same rate.
could be either the spacecraft’s
thrusters are causing this acceleration or the spacecraft came close enough to a planet to be
within its gravitational influence. It is important to note that this is not entirely true. Under the
right circumstances, it would be feasible to tell the difference between acceleration due to gravity
and normal acceleration. If an observer were far enough away from two objects to notice their
trajectories, one could notice that the two objects are either moving parallel or moving towards a
common point. Because gravity always accelerates objects towards a center of gravity, all
objects accelerating due to gravity converge to that center of gravity, like in figure 9. However, if
an external force is causing acceleration, two objects would
simply move parallel to each other and would have no
physical motivation to converge to a center of gravity. This is
known strictly as the weak equivalence principal or simply
as the equivalence principal. All of this goes to show that for
a single object, acceleration due to gravity can be treated
exactly the same as any normal acceleration would for
simplicity (Stannard, 2008).

The effects of time on acceleration and gravity


In special relativity, the examples were always dealing with Figure 10: The white sphere in the center represents any
inertial frames where motion was constant; acceleration was object moving at a significant fraction of the speed of light
never a factor. However, when talking about gravity, and the lighter colored circles represent a uniform wave of
light that was emitted from the object. The direction of motion
acceleration is always a factor and must be accounted for. In is up. Notice that waves of light in front of the moving object
order to do this, it is easiest to explore the effects of time on are closer together and the waves behind the direction of
motion appear stretched out. Source: www.ifa.hawaii.edu
gravity by revisiting the laser in a spacecraft example. If the
Gravitational Lensing 9

conditions for an inertial frame were broken by firing the spacecraft’s thrusters, it would be
apparent that the laser hit the back of the spacecraft first. This is because the entire inertial frame,
the spacecraft, accelerated relative to when the laser was emitted, as shown in figure 10 on the
previous page. This is known as Doppler shift. Using the equivalence principal, this effect is
identical in a gravitational field, but in a gravitational field, acceleration due to gravity increases
as an object approaches the center of gravity (in relevant cases). This is a different prediction
than the one that would have made using only time dilation from special relativity because we
are no longer dealing with two separate inertial frames. With gravitational fields, it is definitely
agreed upon where one is it at in a gravitational field, so in essence time, really moves slower the
further down an observer is in a gravitational field (Stannard, 2008).
This is verified by many different sources in astronomy. Astronomers use spectra to measure
Doppler shift, and when measuring the Doppler shift—astronomers call it redshift when the
frequencies of light increase thus moving away from the observer and blueshift for the opposite
case—they consider the following two things: what should the original spectra look like
(determined experimentally on Earth) and what does the apparent spectra look like? Astronomers
can, and do, do this with the sun, but neutron stars provide the most dramatic example. Neutron
stars have a mass 1.4 times the mass of our sun, but they only have a radius of 10 kilometers,
which is literally 100 million times smaller than the radius of the sun. While their gravity is not
much greater when directly compared with the sun, an observer can get much deeper into the
gravitational field of a neutron stars center of gravity than an observer can with the sun because
that observer would run into the surface of the sun before getting deeper into the sun’s
gravitational field. When astronomers measure Doppler shift, there can be as much as 35 percent
difference between the experimentally determined and original frequencies (Stannard, 2008).

The bending of light


Through the equivalence principal, it is apparent that acceleration and acceleration due to gravity
produce similar effects on objects like feathers and hammers, but when examining the effect of
both accelerations on light, the light can be dramatically affected. Historically, it has been
assumed that light travels in straight lines. Imagining yet another spacecraft example, this
assumption will be challenged. In this example, the spacecraft is far from any gravitating bodies
and moving at a constant speed, thus constituting an inertial frame. A laser at the bottom of the
spacecraft fires pulses at a target at the top of the spacecraft. As expected, the astronaut and a
distant observer see the laser travel in a straight line towards the target. If the spacecraft were to
fire its rockets, the distant observer would see the light travel in a straight line, but the light
would miss the target on the ceiling because the spacecraft has moved since the laser was
emitted. The astronaut, however, would see the light miss the target like the distant observer, but
would observe the light travelling a curved and thus bent path. Moreover, this example can be
used to conclude that acceleration bends light. Take this into account and use the equivalence
principal and replace the acceleration due to the spacecraft’s rockets with the acceleration due to
a gravitational field.
Gravitational Lensing 10

From these observations it is natural to expect that gravitational fields bend light. This is
definitely the case as Einstein predicted in 1915. His prediction was not confirmed until
Eddington’s famous 1919 solar eclipse measurements, as shown on the next page in figures 11

Figure 11 (above): This diagram represents the effect of gravity on light. As


shown later in this paper, light follows natural geodesics. The geodesics near a
massive body, such as the sun, are curved by influence of the sun’s large mass.
Source: plus.maths.org
Figure 12 (right): These are two actual photos of the most recent total solar
eclipse. The top picture is the view from the ground and the bottom picture is
the view from space. Eddington measured the positions of background stars
before and after a total solar eclipse similar to this one, confirming Einstein’s
predictions.
Source: earthobservatory.nasa.gov
and 12. In this experiment, he noted the
position of the stars at night and wanted to
note their positions in the sky while close to
the sun. Because it is not possible to see the
stars during the day, Eddington had to do this during a total solar eclipse. Despite the difficulties
and
inaccuracies of these measurements, he was able to confirm Einstein’s predictions. Moreover,
much later the European Space Agency’s Hipparchos space satellite was able to confirm
predictions made by general relativity to an accuracy of less than 1 percent. This allows for a
phenomenon called gravitational lens, which is the scientific concept crucial to the topic of this
paper. When taking into account the gravitational field of an entire galaxy, it becomes apparent
that light can be severely demagnified, distorted and bent (Stannard, 2008).

Curved Space
As mentioned before, Einstein’s goal with general relativity was to understand why gravity
accelerated objects of different masses at the exact same rate. This has always interested Einstein
because Newtonian physics states that it takes more energy to move objects with a greater mass,
and despite what Newtonian physics says about energy and mass, gravity pulls exactly the same
on objects within its influence. In order to model this reality Einstein came up with the idea of
curved space (Stannard, 2008).
Einstein argued that it is not the natural for objects to remain at rest or travel in straight lines, but
instead it is natural for objects to follow the contour of bent space. Einstein believed that
Gravitational Lensing 11

gravitational fields were the product of space itself being bent by the influence of a massive
body, and the more massive the body the more curved space became. In essence, an astronaut in
orbit around the Earth is merely following the curve laid out in space by the Earth (Stannard,
2008).
To visualize this, imagine
a bobsled on a flat track
(see figure 13). Assuming
the bobsled has a fast
initial and constant speed,
it is natural to expect the
bobsled to go in a straight
line; however, when the
racetrack banks and
curves the bobsled will
follow the path of
racetrack quite easily. In
this example, it is no
longer natural for the
bobsled to go in a straight
path when the track is Figure 13: In these two actual bobsledding pictures, try to see how the bobsled tracks are the natural path for the
bobsleds to travel, assuming a high speed. In the right picture, a bobsled would travel in a straight line as expected
banked and curved. intuitively. In the picture on the left, the banked track forces the bobsled to travel in a way that would be impossible
Einstein believed that under normal circumstances. Geodesics (explained below) are the natural path an object travels in spacetime, just as the
gravity did to space itself bobsled track is the natural path the bobsled would take. Source: www.areavoices.com (left); www.waymarking.com
(right)
what the curved track did
for the bobsled. These predictions would answer how gravity “knew” to pull on all objects at the
exact same rate regardless of their mass. Gravity is no longer seen as pulling on objects, but as
bending space itself so that objects are naturally affected by gravity (Stannard, 2008).
While interesting, this is very difficult to imagine bending space itself. Traditionally, one thinks
of space as nothing, so it is only natural to ask how nothing can be bent. In modern physics,
quantum mechanics tells physicists that the subatomic level of space is literally full of particles,
but this goes beyond the scope of this paper. It was essential to introduce quantum mechanics to
realize that space is something, and not to be thought of as nothing (Stannard, 2008).
Realizing that space is something rather than nothing is
interesting, but visualizing what bent three dimensional
space looks like is very difficult. In fact, it is
impossible from within the third dimension because it
is impossible to put an observer outside of the third
dimension to observe this phenomenon; however, this
is mostly meaningless because an observer can tell the Figure 14: This is a normal Figure 15: This is a non-
shape of bent three dimensions from within it. Euclidean triangle. This triangle is Euclidean triangle drawn on a
normally called a \right triangle. sphere. Note all of the triangle’s
Physicists can do this by measuring the angles of The angles here add up to 180 lines are straight. Here the
Euclidean geometry—Euclidean geometry is the degrees. Source: angles add up to 270 degrees.
traditional approach mathematics takes when looking at www.aprweather.com Source: www.math.cornell.edu
circles and triangles i.e. all angles of a triangle adds up to 180 degrees—
with triangles over areas of space. This is a difficult concept within itself; the only way to
Gravitational Lensing 12

imagine when a triangle’s angles would not add up to 180 degrees is to examine a sphere with a
triangle drawn on it, as shown on the previous page in figures 14 and 15. The three 90 degree
angles of the triangle on the sphere add up to 270 degrees. Also, because of gravitational
redshift, gravity should be thought of as bending not only space but spacetime.
In inertial frames and Euclidean geometry, physicists use straight lines as the foundation of their
thinking. As mentioned earlier, objects naturally follow a curved path in curved spacetime;
instead of lines in spacetime physicists use geodesics, as illustrated in figure 16. In Euclidean
geometry a line is the shortest path between two points. In spacetime, a geodesic is the path that
has the maximum proper time,
which replaces straight lines.
Recalling the twin paradox from
special relativity, it became
apparent that the twin astronaut
would be younger than his
terrestrial brother. It is also
apparent that once the twins are
reunited, they occupy the same
position in space or same event in
spacetime. When the astronaut twin Figure 16: This is a diagram for how four-dimensional spacetime is curved. Since it is impossible to
visualize four dimensions directly, the plane of this diagram represents the three dimensions of space, so
left Earth and came back, the path that way an observer can see the curvature in of three-dimensional space. The white lines represent
he followed did not have the geodesics. From this perspective, the geodesics appear curved near the Earth in order to account for
maximum proper time, but his Earth’s gravity; however, realize an observer within the plane would not immediately realize that the
three dimensions it inhabits are being bent. Source: www.math.cornell.edu
terrestrial twin did. Because the
terrestrial twin remained in an
inertial frame the entire time, his time was only affected by the natural curvature of spacetime,
thus having the maximum proper time between events. The astronaut twin on the other hand
accelerated, thus violating the conditions for an inertial frame and arriving at the same event in
less proper time than his terrestrial brother (Stannard, 2008).
Verification of this prediction has been shown in two main ways: the precession of Mercury’s
orbit and the unaccounted for discrepancies in NASA’s deep space communications. It has been
known since 1845 that Newtonian gravity failed to explain a small deviation in Mercury’s orbit.
It was a very small deviation, but the fact that it was completely unaccounted for indicated that
Newtonian gravity was incomplete. General relativity was used to calculate Mercury’s orbit
precisely, and in 1974, general relativity successfully predicted the precession of a binary star
system. In 1964, a radar astronomer proposed to test relativity by measuring the time delay of
reflected radar pulses emitted from the radar observatories on the Earth. The radar astronomers
did this by bouncing radar pulses off the planets as they orbited the sun. As the sun’s edge got in
between the Earth and the planet, the radar pulses were found to be delayed by about 0.00025
seconds, which was exactly what relativity predicted. It is important to note that discrepancies
between what Newtonian gravity predicts and what general relativity predicts are very small, but
moreover, not only does general relativity account for these discrepancies, it also explains why
the planets orbit in the first place (Stannard, 2008).
Gravitational Lensing 13

THEORETICAL BACKGROUND
There are three different types of gravitational lensing. Strong lensing is where the gravitational
lens has affected the source light to the point the image is split into multiple highly distorted
images. Weak lensing is where the gravitational lens only distorts without splitting the image;
however, the effect is still resolvable by telescopes like the Hubble. Microlensing is where the
distortion caused by the gravitational lens is only detectable through the source’s brightness
variation. Microlensing cannot be resolved directly by any telescope because if it could, it would
be weak lensing instead.
Before diving into the details, gravitational lensing requires a considerable math and physics
background to be fully understood. Here, a brief introduction to the mathematics will be given.
From general relativity, it is apparent that light is bent by gravity’s influence. When actually
measuring the angle it is bent, astronomers use the following equation:

Where is the angle between the apparent path of light and the source, is the universal
gravitational constant, is the mass of the object, is the speed of light, and is the
perpendicular distance between the light ray and the object. However, this is only for a point
Figure 17: This diagram formally
demonstrates how gravitational lensing is
calculated. Pay close attention to the
difference between and . Notice that
goes through the lens object, but
because the light rays have been
gravitationally lensed, they can go around
the lens object and arrive to the observer.
Also pay close attention to difference
between the apparent image and where
the source actually is. Note that is in
this diagram. Also, in this particular
diagram can be substituted for , but in
almost all cases the vector will not be
perpendicular to the lens.

mass. In reality, point masses do not exist. The actual deflection of a


light ray can be given here as a function of density using vector sums:

Where the density of the lens is , is the distance vector between the light ray and the object,
is the derivative of the vector, and is the line of sight coordinate. This equation is the
foundation for approximations of how the light is bent. This is shown above by figure 17.
Gravitational Lensing 14

The surface brightness of an image is not altered by gravitational lensing, but the magnification
of objects by a gravitational lens can be greatly demagnified or greatly magnified. This
magnification is directly proportional to the area of the source and the area of the image, which is
given by:

Where is the factor of magnification, is the angle between the source and apparent image,
and is angle between the source and the lens.
These two mathematical concepts are essential to seeing how gravitational microlensing works,
realizing that all the variables will not be accounted for, and why it is so difficult to apply. The
first two equations described only apply to a single theoretical light ray. In order to approximate
an entire image, it takes an enormous amount of computing power as will be shown later. The
third equation is essential to realizing that magnification can be beneficial in the case of the
image being magnified or detrimental when the image is demagnified.

STRONG LENSING
Strong lensing almost always involves a super massive galaxy as the lens, and the source is
usually another galaxy. When dealing with the mass of an entire galaxy, the gravitational
influence becomes astronomically huge, literally. For example, there are an estimated half
trillion stars in the galaxy. Just accounting for those half trillion stars, ignoring the dark matter in
our galaxy, and assuming that each star is the same mass as the sun, the combined mass is
grossly 500 billion solar masses or kilograms—for reference is a billion so
is forty-billion-billion-billion-
billion kilograms. Even though
this is grossly inaccurate of the
galaxy’s actual estimated mass,
the point is crystal clear;
galaxies are super massive.
This allows the light from a
source galaxy to be split into
different images by the lensing
galaxy (see figures 18 and 19).
This is what happens to the
source light after the light Figure 18: Here is an example of a strong lensing event. Figure 19: This is an actual image from the
Notice the four white spheres surrounding the slightly Hubble space telescope demonstrating strong
follows geodesics that are larger sphere in the center. The four spheres on the outside lensing. The blue arcs are the source galaxy in this
created by a gravitational lens. all came from one source. The sphere in the center is the image, while the galaxy cluster in the center is the
lensing galaxy. Source: www.astro.cf.ac.uk gravitational lens. Source: www.lsst.org
Remembering that geodesics
are what replace straight lines in non-Euclidean geometry,
it not only strikingly confirms Einstein’s relativity, but gives astronomers a lot of information.
As goes for all types of gravitational lensing, astronomers can say something about the mass of
the lens object by determining how much mass would be needed to create the apparent image.
Remembering loss of simultaneity, and that geodesics have the maximum proper time, it
becomes clear that these images can arrive to us at different times. The difference in time can be
determined by a shift in the frequency of the light. The shift in the frequency can be corrected if
Gravitational Lensing 15

enough data is present by matching the correct light curves together (e.g. like putting together the
pieces to a puzzle) (Vegetti & Koopmans, 2009).

WEAK LENSING
Weak lensing is an uncommon type of gravitational lensing. It occurs when the source light has
not been split into different images. This makes it much more difficult to account for the effects
of the gravitational lens since there are not two images to directly compare to each other. As a
consequence, there has to be other methods used to estimate the lens mass in order to properly
calculate the effects of weak lensing (Camera, Bertacca, Diaferio, Bartolo, & Matarrese, 2009).
MICROLENSING
Microlensing is the most common type of gravitational
lensing, and therefore, shows the most promise in
science. Unfortunately, it is the most difficult type of
gravitational lensing to interpret. Because a micro lens is
by definition irresolvable by large telescopes, the data
must be interpreted using advanced image analysis with
supercomputers. The conclusions that can be drawn from
microlensing are heavily statistical but can at least give
upper bounds on things like the mass of the source object
or lens object. When dealing with galaxies, computers Figure 20: This is a typical magnification pattern for a lensing
must take into account the motion of the stars within the galaxy. The dark areas indicate higher magnification and the light
areas indicate lower magnification. The magnification varies by a
galaxy. Because of this, magnification patterns are factor of 10 from the highest to lowest magnification. Source:
created and matched to fit the data (see figure 20) (Kochanek, Dai, Morgan, Poindexter, & Chartas, 2006)
(Kochanek, Dai, Morgan, Poindexter, & Chartas, 2006).

THE BAYESIAN METHOD OF ANALYSIS


The Bayesian method is a statistical approach to compare hypothesis. When the data is
incomplete, the Bayesian method seeks to assign probabilities based on incomplete data. As data
is gathered and collected it is updated into the Bayesian probability equations. When comparing
two hypotheses, the Bayesian method can only say that one hypothesis is more likely than the
other. It is important to note that this method is subject to bias because the data gathered could be
intentionally selected to support one conclusion. However, when all available data is taken into
account, the Bayesian method can be used to effectively rule out certain hypotheses when their
probability is very low (Loredo, 1992).
The Bayesian method of analysis is the most effective method for gravitational lensing. This
means that all conclusions drawn solely on gravitational lensing are statistical arguments, but this
does not mean that these conclusions are meaningless statistical arguments when other
independent methods verify what the Bayesian probability agrees with. As a consequence,
gravitational lensing can only be used to rule out possibilities instead of drawing concrete
conclusions independently (Loredo, 1992).
Gravitational Lensing 16

THE PROCESS
In astronomy, there is a significant process that must occur in order for astronomers to formulate
hypothesis. Astronomers must first gather the data, which is the “picture taking” of the desired
astronomical object. Second, astronomers must analyze the image with computers, refining
certain factors that are relevant to our hypothesis. Lastly, astronomers must take the data and
apply it to theory in order to formulate a hypothesis or determine where further experimentation
or observations are necessary.

OBTAINING THE DATA


Obtaining data for gravitational lensing requires three things: one, a larger telescope with good
resolution; two, a couple hours of observing every night; and three, space telescopes for certain
wavelengths of light (Kochanek, Dai, Morgan, Poindexter, & Chartas, 2006). However,
astronomical data is generally collected by charged-coupled devices (CCDs for short) that are
attached to telescopes. These CCDs take the analog light signals and turn them into electrical
signals that can be digitally interpreted by a computer. The actual mechanics of this process are
quite complex and beyond the scope of this paper, but it is important to note that modern
astronomy uses only digital photographic technology in order to take advantage of digital image
analysis techniques. This is important because digital methods of image analysis are far superior
to the “by hand” methods of pre-digital astronomy, and digital methods allow computers to
analyze the data—computers cannot analyze analog data.
The size of a telescope mirror is a significant factor of the effectiveness of a telescope. In
general, when the radius of a telescope mirror doubles, the surface area of the mirror is roughly
multiplied by 4pi or about twelve times. This means that about twelve times more light will be
received by a telescope that has only twice the radius than a different telescope. This effect adds
up quickly when combined with the technical capabilities of the telescopes CCD. Because
computers are digital and images are stored in rows and columns of pixels (also known as
resolution), the resolution of a CCD is also very important. For observing lensing events, the
telescopes must be at least one or two meters in diameter, which is rather large. Also, their
resolution must be no less accurate than 1 arc second—an arc second is 1/3600th of a degree
(Kochanek, Dai, Morgan, Poindexter, & Chartas, 2006).
Observing a lensing event for one or two hours seems like a trivial task; however, the way
telescope time is divided currently makes this a near impossibility. Telescope time is typically
divided up into segments of time measured in days. During these allocated time periods,
astronomers are allowed to use the telescopes as they intended because most other methods of
observation require long exposure times or numerous short exposures. This is a sociological
issue and is difficult to change, but increased cooperation within the observing community could
easily allow for the one or two hour requirements of lensing observations and would greatly
advance the science of astronomy (Kochanek, Dai, Morgan, Poindexter, & Chartas, 2006).
Astronomers assume that the bending of light is not uniform among all wavelengths of light, and
in order to measure this effect, astronomers must observe in multiple wavelengths of light.
Because the Earth’s atmosphere easily lets only radar, visible, and infrared wavelengths through,
astronomers must turn to space telescopes to observe the ultraviolet, gamma, and most
importantly x-ray wavelengths. Space telescopes are not hindered by the distortion of the Earth’s
Gravitational Lensing 17

atmosphere, and therefore are capable of many things that are otherwise impossible with
terrestrial telescopes. Astronomy is very fortunate to have enough public support to enable the
funding needed for many space telescopes, but space telescopes are very expensive, which
makes them scarce. Since there are so few of them, there are very few astronomers that get to use
them; therefore, it becomes difficult to overcome the sociological issues with observing lensing
events (Kochanek, Dai, Morgan, Poindexter, & Chartas, 2006).
In short, the difficulties of observing lensing events means that it will be about a decade before
the use of gravitational microlensing will be common. However, these same difficulties also
demonstrate that observing lensing events only require a greater cooperation among astronomers
instead of a more costly alternative.

COMPUTER MODELING
Science has become increasingly reliant on computers to make advancements. This is true
mainly because the mathematics of the real world rarely allow for analytical, or exact, solutions.
This means that the solution must be found numerically. Before computers, scientists were often
unable to do these complex computations by hand with useable results. For instance, a crude
example—albeit possible to solve analytically—of this is approximating the slope of a curve at
any given point. This example will use a standard parabola. In order to guess the slope of point
(x, y), draw a line between two dots that are close to point (x, y) (which are illustrated in figures
21 and 22). Realizing that this straight line is not the exact slope of the curve at point (x, y),
imagine drawing the dots as
close as possible to point (x, y)
to get a much closer
approximation. Before the
invention of calculus this was
how Newton approximated the
slope of curves, but the
important point here is to realize
that it is needed to get closer and
closer to point (x, y) to Figure 21: This is a standard parabola with point Figure 22: This is an example of Newton’s method.
(x, y) represented. Two points are drawn close to point (x, y) in order to
approximate with any real approximate the exact slope of (x, y)
accuracy. In science, this becomes incredibly difficult to do by
hand with any useable results. For instance, the first approximation of the above parabola is so
far away from the real slope of the curve that it would be unwise to use it for any tangible or
theoretical purposes. It becomes apparent that computers are needed to calculate approximations
that are accurate enough for any real use, and when approximations are made by computers, the
accuracy of numerical approximations are literally trillions of times faster and more accurate
than numerical approximations done by hand.
The equations of gravitational lensing require an enormous amount of computing power. This is
mainly for the following two reasons: one, it is required to approximate very small sections of
the light curve in order to obtain results that are accurate enough; two, when the gravitational
lens is another galaxy, we must take into account there are billions of stars in these galaxies that
all have their own magnification patterns and—to severely complicate the simulation—these
Gravitational Lensing 18

stars are all moving. Each of these factors on their own is relatively easy for modern personal
computers to handle. For example, approximating a single light curve takes only a couple dozen
megabytes of random access memory (RAM) and a few seconds. However, it becomes apparent
when approximating all the light curves, creating a random star field, and animating that same
star field that the RAM requirements skyrocket into hundreds of gigabytes and require days to
run on supercomputers. Fortunately, supercomputer time is relatively easy to obtain for
scientists, but the time factor still limits the amount of data that can be processed for
gravitational lensing (Kochanek, Dai, Morgan, Poindexter, & Chartas, 2006).

APPLICATIONS
There are numerous applications of gravitational microlensing for astronomers. Gravitational
microlensing is uniquely capable of determining the mass of objects. This is only one of the
unique characteristics of gravitational microlensing. Gravitational microlensing will be able to
help astronomers detect extra-solar planets, probe the nature of black holes, determine the nature
of dark matter, and even help astronomers figure out how this universe formed.

EXOPLANET DETECTION
It has been assumed, since the dawn of modern astronomy, that other solar systems should have
planets. This assumption stemmed from the fact that our own solar system has eight planets.
However, for many years astronomers searched and found nothing. In fact, in 1972, Peter Van
De Kamp spent over 30 years—from 1938 to 1963—using the astrometric method to find extra-
solar planets. Because the light from a star makes it nearly impossible to photograph exoplanets
directly, the astrometric method was the first method astronomers used to discover extra-solar
planets. Since planets have gravitational influence on the stars they orbit, they cause tiny
wobbles in their stars’ orbit. This is a well known fact confirmed by Jupiter within the own solar
system, which pulls the sun a small distance towards itself. However, the resulting distance is so
small it would be nearly impossible to detect the wobble of a star from trillions of miles of way.
With this in mind, Van De Kamp searched for a nearby low mass star known as Barnard’s Star.
After years of observing the same star, he published the results in The Astronomical Journal, but
another study by George Gatewood and Heinrich Eichhorn has failed to replicate his results (Van
De Kamp, 1969) (Gatewood & Eichhorn, 1973).
The first widely accepted exoplanet was not detected until 1995 by the spectroscopic method
(Mayor & Queloz, 1995). The spectroscopic method has the same basic idea as the astrometric
method; however, instead of detecting the wobble of a star directly, the spectroscopic method
detects the wobble through tiny Doppler shifts. This method has become the dominant method
for detecting exoplanets and has detected over 200 exoplanets so far. This method does have
some limitation—mainly because the planet must be rather massive to cause a measurable
wobble in star. It can only detect planets with similar masses to Neptune because spectrometers
are not sensitive enough (Erskine, Edelstein, Harbeck, & Lloyd, 2005).
Gravitational microlensing overcomes many of the problems with the spectroscopic method, but
the general limitations of gravitational microlensing hinder it from being the most successful
method for detecting extra-solar planets. The main advantage of gravitational microlensing as a
method for detecting extra-solar planets is that it can independently verify the mass of an extra-
Gravitational Lensing 19

solar planet, and detect planets that are currently beyond the sensitivity of other methods. In
August of 2005, there was a tiny deviation in the light curve of a star during a lensing event. This
planet was found to have a mass around 5.5 times the mass of the Earth making it the least
massive exoplanet found to date. At the same time, it was found orbiting a star in the galactic
bulge at a distance of about 21,500 light years, making it by far the most distant exoplanet found
(Beaulieu, Bennett, & Fouque, 2006).
This has tremendous potential for exoplanet astronomy. The models for planetary formation are
far from being complete. One of the main problems with creating an accurate and reliable model
for planetary formation is a lack of planets to look at. Before 1995, exoplanets had yet to be
detected, and now new technologies continue to push the limits of sensitivity further.
Gravitational microlensing will greatly benefit the exoplanet research community by acting as an
independent method of verifying the claims of other methods. If claims about exoplanets can be
verified by gravitational microlensing and other methods of exoplanet detection, astronomers
will be “one-giant-leap” closer to having enough data to create a complete model of planetary
formation. Also, it appears that gravitational microlensing will be the only method capable of
detecting extremely distant exoplanets for quite some time.

ACCRETION DISK THEORY


Since the dawn of modern physics with Einstein's general relativity, physicists have been
searching for ways to unite the forces of physics into one grand unifying theory. Unfortunately,
when physicists attempt to combine the most complete theory of gravity, general relativity,
with the most complete theory of the other three forces, quantum mechanics, by studying black
holes, they get absolutely nowhere. These two models are incompatible with each other. While
both theories can predict what each force of physics will do to a high degree of accuracy, one or
both are wrong to a certain extent. As biologists have the grand theory evolution—which fully
explains the diversity of life—physicists hope to create a grand unification theory. With a theory
that successfully unites and explains all the forces of physics, the genre of science fiction will no
longer be a proper name. Perhaps futuristic fantasy would be more appropriate. Any imaginable
manipulation of matter, space, and time will be known and possible. Cold fusion will be
commonplace, and even the vast distances between stars will no longer be an obstacle. Accretion
disk theory is one of the many ways physicists are trying to unite the forces of physics. Because
black holes are unobservable using light, accretion disk theory is an attempt to study the
observable properties of a black hole and even probe the properties of the actual black holes.
Accretion disk theory deals with what happens when matter that is not gravitationally bound
somehow contracts and becomes gravitationally bound to form a star, a quasar, or even a planet.
Since astronomers first started modeling accretion disks, it became abundantly clear that there
are large disagreements between observation and theory. Over the last 40 years, astronomers
have begun accounting for the many variables of accretion disks. The current theory built up
after all these years, which deals with magnetic instabilities, is actually being discredited by
recent evidence. This has forced astronomers to rethink the fundamentals of the accretion disk
theory (Hubbard & E, 2008).
Most current research focuses on the X-ray emission of quasars—quasars are supposed to be
super massive black holes with an accretion disk. X-rays are of particular interest because over
90% of X-rays are emitted from quasars. Some astronomers believe that understanding why this
Gravitational Lensing 20

is the case will help refine accretion disk theory. Gravitational microlensing is attempting to
refine the X-ray data with strong lensing. This will help determine the reliability of the data and
allow astronomers to focus more on refining the theory (Jovanovic & Popovic, 2009).

DARK MATTER DETECTION


When astronomers first began to estimate the masses of galaxies, they discovered a huge
problem. Astronomers calculated these estimates by looking at all of the light a galaxy emits and
using the standard photometric method of estimating mass. Another way to estimate the mass of
objects is to measure the speed of the two objects in question. This is done quite often with
binary star systems. Using this idea proves that the stronger the gravity, the faster an object
within its influence needs to go in order to stay in orbit. For example, when taking two identical
planets and placing them in the exact same orbit around two different stars, it would become
apparent that the planet around the more massive star would be moving faster, so if the speed and
orbits of two stars in a binary system are known, the mass of both objects can be calculated. This
was the first way astronomers measured the mass of astronomical objects.
Using these two methods of measuring mass, astronomers found that the mass estimated this way
was far less than the mass that would be required to account for the speed of the stars rotating
within any given galaxy. In fact, it is estimated that only 4% of the mass in the entire universe is
baryonic (normal), matter. To compensate for these effects, astronomers speculated that invisible
dark matter existed to account for all of the missing mass. For some time, dark matter was purely
speculative. Astronomers believed that it would be possible to indirectly detect dark matter
through its gravitational effects. With advances in gravitational lensing, it became immediately
apparent that gravitational lensing would play a huge role in dark matter research. While the true
nature of dark matter is still wildly speculative, gravitational lensing is being used to map its
theoretical location in the universe. Determining what and where dark matter is has been the goal
of modern astronomy ever since dark matter’s existence was first proposed.

BIG BANG COSMOLOGY


Since its proposal by the scientist and Roman Catholic priest
Georges Lemaître in 1931 (pictured in figure 22), the big
bang theory has been through a rather interesting scientific
journey (Midbon, 2000). It was scoffed at by scientists for
many years and was not the dominant cosmological theory
for over 30 years. In 1965, the cosmic microwave
background was discovered, which the big bang theory
directly predicted, marking the beginning of the big bang
theory’s dominance in science. Despite some amazing
successes, the big bang theory still fails to explain the origin
of our universe with any reasonable sense of authority.
One of the problems with the big bang theory is that it does
not predict the observed distribution of matter within the
universe. As stated earlier, it is believed that baryonic
(normal) matter makes up only 4% of the matter in the Figure 23: This is a picture of Lemaitre next to Einstein.
universe. Dark matter is believed to account for another 22% Lemaitre was the first scientist to apply Einstein’s general
relativity to cosmology.
Gravitational Lensing 21

of the matter despite that it has never been directly observed, and dark energy—the most exotic
and unconfirmed astrophysical theory proposed yet—is supposed to account for the rest. The
current understanding of physics can only attempt to explain 4% of the universe. Dark matter and
dark energy need to be understood to make a more serious attempt at understanding the origin of
universe, which is perhaps the grandest question astronomy can answer.
Gravitational lensing is contributing to the solution by indirectly mapping dark matter. The most
beneficial contribution it may make is preparing astronomy for the advent of super radio
telescopes. These radio telescopes will be capable of resolving the influence of dark matter much
better than gravitational lensing will (Metcalf & White, 2008).

CONCLUSION
Gravitational lensing shows immense promise for astronomers. Since man has looked into the
sky, there has been an indescribable urge to understand. Besides discovering that the Earth
circled the sun and not the other way around, Galileo laid the foundation for modern science by
showing that careful observation and experimentation will lead to a greater understanding of the
natural world. Later, Einstein laid the foundations for gravitational lensing by proposing special
and general relativity. Finally, after amazing advancements in computers and telescopes,
gravitational lensing has become a reality. Astronomers are now free to use gravitational lensing
as a method for probing the cosmos.
Astronomers have only had space telescopes for a very short period of time. During this time,
some people have claimed that astronomy has entered a golden age of discovery; however, these
people were not aware that methods like gravitational lensing will become viable and useful.
This fact, combined with other new observational methods, like speckle imaging,
interferometers, and astroseismology, will propel astronomy into the real golden age of
astronomy. Astronomers are only beginning to have enough data to answer the big questions, and
hopefully, with enough time astronomers will do just that.
Gravitational Lensing 22

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