These two images show one example of a gravitational lens. The light from one quasar has been distorted so that the quasar appears four times. In the center of the four is the galaxy whose gravitational pull is causing the distortion.
Take an object that’s massive enough, and it will bend light around it in what scientists call a gravitational lens. Want to see one for yourself? Maybe you can. Citizen science website Zooniverse is hosting a project where you can spot gravitational lenses in images collected by the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, but never before seen by humans.
Join the project at Spacewarps.org. The site will teach you what to look for. All you have to do is click on galaxies that look like they’re being lensed by nearby neighbors.
Finding gravitational lenses is helpful to professional astronomers because the lenses magnify galaxies that sit immediately behind them, acting like cosmic telescopes so astronomers can better observe the lensed galaxies. The light distortions that happen in lensing can also tell astronomers about how much mass is in the lensed object and how that matter is arranged.
Gravitational lensing is rare. Astronomers now know of only about 400 such objects. Yet they think modern telescopes, with human help, should be able to detect thousands more.
Space Warps participants are now classifying about 1,000 images a minute, according to a tweet from the site.
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