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Gallery: Incredible Mirages In Space Show Dark Matter, Supernovas And Galaxies

This artist’s impression of a supernova shows the layers of gas ejected prior to the final deathly explosion of a massive star. Credit: NASA/Swift/Skyworks Digital/Dana Berry

This artist’s impression of a supernova shows the layers of gas ejected prior to the final deathly explosion of a massive star. Credit: NASA/Swift/Skyworks Digital/Dana Berry

How can an exploding star appear far brighter than expected? This question vexed astronomers since the discovery of PS1-10afx, supernova that was about 30 times more luminous than other Type 1A supernovas. Astronomers have just confirmed in Science that it was likely due to well-known illusion in space.

The mirage is called a gravitational lens that happens when a huge object in the foreground (like a galaxy) bends the light of an object in the background. Astronomers use this trick all the time to spy on galaxies and even to map dark matter, the mysterious substance believed to make up most of the universe.

Check out some spectacular images below of the phenomenon in action.

Canada-France-Hawaii-Telescope (CFHT) image of the field before the supernova PS1-10afx. (Credit: Kavli IPMU / CFHT)

Canada-France-Hawaii-Telescope (CFHT) image of the field before the supernova PS1-10afx. (Credit: Kavli IPMU / CFHT)

Dark matter in the Bullet Cluster.  Otherwise invisible to telescopic views, the dark matter was mapped by observations of gravitational lensing of background galaxies. Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/CfA/ M.Markevitch et al.; Lensing Map: NASA/STScI; ESO WFI; Magellan/U.Arizona/ D.Clowe et al. Optical: NASA/STScI; Magellan/U.Arizona/D.Clowe et al.;

Dark matter in the Bullet Cluster. Otherwise invisible to telescopic views, the dark matter was mapped by observations of gravitational lensing of background galaxies. Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/CfA/ M.Markevitch et al.; Lensing Map: NASA/STScI; ESO WFI; Magellan/U.Arizona/ D.Clowe et al. Optical: NASA/STScI; Magellan/U.Arizona/D.Clowe et al.;

Hubble Space Telescope image shows Einstein ring of one of the SLACS gravitational lenses, with the lensed background galaxy enhanced in blue. A. Bolton (UH/IfA) for SLACS and NASA/ESA.

Hubble Space Telescope image shows Einstein ring of one of the SLACS gravitational lenses, with the lensed background galaxy enhanced in blue. A. Bolton (UH/IfA) for SLACS and NASA/ESA.

The image is made from HST data and shows the four lensed images of the dusty red quasar, connected by a gravitational arc of the quasar host galaxy. The lensing galaxy is seen in the centre, between the four lensed images. Credit: John McKean/HST Archive data

The image is made from HST data and shows the four lensed images of the dusty red quasar, connected by a gravitational arc of the quasar host galaxy. The lensing galaxy is seen in the centre, between the four lensed images. Credit: John McKean/HST Archive data

The HST WFPC2 image of gravitational lensing in the galaxy cluster Abell 2218, indicating the presence of large amount of dark matter (credit Andrew Fruchter at STScI).

The HST WFPC2 image of gravitational lensing in the galaxy cluster Abell 2218, indicating the presence of large amount of dark matter (credit Andrew Fruchter at STScI).

A picture of the object J1000+0221, which demonstrates the most distant gravitational lens ever discovered. This Hubble picture shows a normal galaxy's center region (the glow in the picture), but the object is also aligned with a younger, star-creating galaxy that is in behind. The object in the foreground pulls light from the background galaxy with gravity -- making rings of  pictures. Credit: NASA/ESA/A. van der Wel

A picture of the object J1000+0221, which demonstrates the most distant gravitational lens ever discovered. This Hubble picture shows a normal galaxy’s center region (the glow in the picture), but the object is also aligned with a younger, star-creating galaxy that is in behind. The object in the foreground pulls light from the background galaxy with gravity — making rings of pictures. Credit: NASA/ESA/A. van der Wel

About 

Elizabeth Howell is the senior writer at Universe Today. She also works for Space.com, Space Exploration Network, the NASA Lunar Science Institute, NASA Astrobiology Magazine and LiveScience, among others. Career highlights include watching three shuttle launches, and going on a two-week simulated Mars expedition in rural Utah. You can follow her on Twitter @howellspace or contact her at her website.

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  • Snowball Solar System April 25, 2014, 2:30 PM

    Are OB Supergiants Dark-Matter Stars?

    Dark Matter = primordial Bok Globules and Cometary (Bok) Globules?!

    If the largest circa 100-300 solar mass Bok Globules collapsed to form the earliest, primordial Population III stars in the Universe, perhaps only smaller (1 light year in diameter by 2-50 solar-mass) Bok globules remain, containing pure hydrogen and helium from the early Universe which can’t gravitationally collapse without higher mass, density or metallicity.

    Star-forming nebulae may form around OB supergiants that evaporate dark-matter Bok globules to form streaming cometary globules (called ‘cometary globules’ because of the cold dense tails of gas streaming away from super-intense OB supergiant radiation).

    So blue supergiant stars may form new stellar nurseries from ubiquitous but normally-invisible dark-matter Bok globules, and the cold pure hydrogen/helium evaporating from cometary globules and mixing with higher-metallicity interstellar dust and gas may be the engines of galactic star formation.

    Catastrophic compression of Bok globules by supernovae et al. may initiate gravitational collapse by spiking the gas density, forming new OB supergiants which in turn create new stellar nurseries to form the vastly more numerous dwarf stars.

    Cometary Globules:
    http://images.astronet.ru/pubd/2003/04/18/0001189078/HelixD_hst_big.gif

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