Archive | January 2014

Look at the blob!

Having recovered somewhat from the madness that was BBC Stargazing Live, the SpaceWarps team have been continuing to work through the marvelous data supplied by warp hunters since the relaunch of the project. As we’ve said before, there are lots of good candidates, but much of the attention has continued to be on the object we featured on the program.

850um image of the Stargaxzing Lens

Observatories have continued to be generous with their time, and the team are particularly excited by this image. It may not look like much, but this is a picture taken with the James Clark Maxwell Telescope’s SCUBA2 camera. This is interesting because it fills a gap in our wavelength coverage of the object, which allows us to continue pinning down exactly what type of galaxy our lens hunters have captured. On a personal note, having spent a lot of my PhD there the JCMT is my favourite telescope, so it’s great to see it getting involved in this follow-up campaign.


Moving a Giant Telescope for Space Warps

Since we were featured on the BBC’s Stargazing Live programme on Tuesday evening the project has been manic. We’ve now had almost 6 million classifications of images from tens of thousands of people. The team have been furiously working to extract your candidates from the data to be able to share them – live on the BBC – tonight.

As part of these efforts we have convinced several telescopes around the world to try and point at one particularly lovely candidate lens to see what we can learn in time for tonight’s show. Last night, Chris Lintott and Robert Simpson (who are at Jodrell for the show) went outside to capture the moment that the gigantic Lovell dish turned to look at your lens candidate.

Animation of Lovell moving to look at a Space Warps source.

Eventually the telescope did move and here is an animated GIF of it slewing toward a Space Warps source. We will report with more detail when we have it, but it’s going to be right up to the wire, so we hope you’ll be able to watch the show tonight and see the results.

To keep up to date, join us on the Space Warps site as well as on Talk, Twitter and Facebook.

New Year, New Data: Hunting for lenses in the infrared with VICS82

Happy New Year everyone! We’re starting 2014 off with a bang, with a brand new dataset, and hopefully a whole new army of spotters who’ll have heard about Space Warps from the BBC Stargazing Live programmes. Welcome to Space Warps, you guys 🙂

So how about this new data then? Here’s an example gravitational lens from the VICS82 infrared survey – and here’s PI Jim Geach of the University of Hertfordshire to explain the survey.


Jim says: VICS82 stands for “VISTA-CFHT Stripe 82”, and is the largest near-infrared imaging survey of its kind, mapping nearly 200 square degrees of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey ‘Stripe 82’ – a narrow strip of sky that is the deepest part of the SDSS. VICS82 is using two 4-m class telescopes fitted with large-format near-infrared cameras: the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii) and the VISTA survey telescope in the Chilean Atacama.

Over the last few years, Stripe 82 has received much attention from a wide range of different telescopes, covering the millimetre and radio bands, through the optical and infrared and (soon) high-energy x-rays. Its location along the celestial equator makes the Stripe a great target for facilities in both the northern and southern hemispheres – in fact, it’s shaping up into the first of a new generation of very large and deep extragalactic survey fields. Previously there has been a compromise between survey depth and sky area that has limited the size of the fields we can observe if we want to study the distant Universe (you can go very deep and therefore see very far, but only over very small patches of sky – like the Hubble Deep Field). But with ever-improving sensitivity and mapping capabilities in instrumentation right across the electromagnetic spectrum we’re now able to map much larger areas to much deeper depths than every before. While certainly not as deep as the HDF, VICS82 is the deepest near-infrared survey that exists for the size of the sky it has imaged, and can see normal galaxies out to a redshift of about 1 or so, when the Universe was roughly half its present age. It can see quasars out to much higher redshifts – these objects shine like beacons across the Cosmos.

So, one of the main goals of VICS82 is to survey a huge volume of the Universe to detect a mixture of massive and passive (ie, not star-forming) galaxies, and also dusty and actively star-forming galaxies and quasars. While VICS82 uses wavebands that complement the existing SDSS imaging (improving photometric redshifts for example), some of the objects detected by VICS82 are expected to be very faint or even invisible in the current optical imaging of the Stripe, showing up only at the longer wavelengths (1-2 microns) probed by VICS82. We call these systems ‘red’, and they are very important to consider in our census of galaxies if we are to properly piece-together the story of galaxy evolution.

With SpaceWarps we hope to identify examples of rare ‘red arcs’ which might be very distant, highly reddened galaxies lensed by a foreground mass like a group or cluster. If these galaxies contain lots of dust, their visible light might be completely extinguished internally, and so would not be detectable at shorter wavelengths, but the infrared photons can more easily escape. If we can find even a few of these systems, then the possibilities for detailed follow-up work are tremendous, since – when armed with a model of the lensing mass – we can really dissect the galaxy, exploring its inner workings in a way that is simply impossible without the benefit of lensing.

What we’ve done is select about 40,000 images from the survey, that each contain either a possible lens (ie a massive galaxy or group of galaxies), or a possible quasar source. The images are a little fuzzy, because the night sky is so bright in the infrared – this makes it quite difficult for computers to detect the faint lensed features. Sounds like a job for Space Warps! Good hunting, and thanks for all your contributions – see you on Talk!