James Webb Space Telescope just captured the most distant ‘Einstein ring’ ever

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The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has achieved another milestone by capturing an image of the most distant Einstein ring ever discovered.

In the field of one of JWST’s largest-area surveys, COSMOS-Web, an Einstein ring was discovered around a compact, distant galaxy. It turns out to be the most distant gravitational lens ever discovered by a few billion light-years. (Image credit: P. van Dokkum et al., Nature Astronomy accepted, 2023)

This remarkable find, located a staggering 21 billion light-years away, offers new insights into the universe’s structure and the role of dark matter.

A Perfectly Formed Einstein Ring

An Einstein ring is a rare phenomenon predicted by Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity. It occurs when the gravity of a massive foreground object, such as a galaxy or a black hole, warps the space-time around it. This warping causes the light from more distant objects to curve and form a ring-like structure. The captured Einstein ring, named JWST-ER1, is unusually perfect and encircles a compact, dense galaxy. The ring’s perfection indicates a precise alignment between the observer, the foreground object, and the distant object.

The Significance of the Discovery

The discovery was part of the COSMOS-Web survey, which maps over 500,000 galaxies during a 200-hour continuous JWST observation. The foreground galaxy, JWST-ER1g, is located around 17 billion light-years from Earth, while the light forming the ring, JWST-ER1r, is another 4 billion light-years farther. The previous record for the most distant lensing object was around 14.7 billion light-years away. This new find allows astronomers to study distant objects in greater detail, thanks to the magnifying effect of gravitational lensing.

Unraveling the Mysteries of Dark Matter

The mass of the lensing galaxy was calculated to be equivalent to around 650 billion suns, making it unusually dense. Some of this mass can be attributed to dark matter, the elusive substance that makes up approximately 85% of all matter in the universe. However, the calculations indicate that additional mass is needed to explain the lensing results, opening up new questions about the nature of dark matter and the composition of these ancient galaxies.

In conclusion, the discovery of this distant Einstein ring by the JWST not only breaks records but also provides a unique opportunity to study the universe’s most distant objects and the enigmatic dark matter that pervades it.

Research Article

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