For the first time ever, scientists have captured an spiral galaxy in its early stages of formation, only two billion years after the Big Bang. This time, however, they haven't used the magic Hubble, but the ten-metre Keck telescope in Hawaii helped by something called gravitational lensing, or Mother Nature's own optical zoom lenses.
A Cosmic Eye is a unique configuration of galaxies in the sky, with one galaxy in the foreground and the other in the background, giving it the appearance of an eye in space. The foreground galaxy-- in this case the yellow one, 2.2 billion light years from Earth—acts as the lenses thanks to its gravitational field, which bends the light coming from the background galaxy—in blue, 11 billion light years from Earth. This distortion effect, which was predicted by Einstein theories, has enlarged the early spiral galaxy by eight times.
The technique gives an idea of what would be possible with the next generation of telescopes—the European Extremely Large Telescope and the American Thirty Metre Telescope. [Physorg]
Credit: Cosmic Eye showing the foreground galaxy in yellow at the centre of the image surrounded by the blue arc of the distant galaxy. Credit: Mark Swinbank/Durham University