The Hubble Space Telescope has completed its Frontier Fields observations, and to celebrate the achievement, the team has released an extraordinary image of Abell 370 in more detail than ever before.
Abell 370 is one of the six clusters studied in the Frontier Fields program. Scientists used Hubble for 630 hours to produce our deepest observations of the galaxy clusters yet. But it’s not a vanity project. The pictures are not only beautiful, they are also helping astronomers uncover some of the mysteries of the universe.
The cluster is 6 billion light-years away and so massive and dense that its gravity bends space-time itself, acting as a gigantic lens. This effect is one of the reasons astronomers were interested in Abell 370 and the other five clusters. These gravitational lenses magnify (and distort) the light of distant galaxies, allowing astronomers an incredible look into the infancy of the universe. Some of the lensed galaxies are from the first few hundred million years of the cosmos.
The Frontier Fields program has allowed incredibly distant objects (one was the most distant at the time) and new populations of galaxies to be viewed as never before. It is also helping astronomers understand dark matter better. The mysterious (and yet to be confirmed) component of the cosmos doesn’t interact with light but only with gravity. So what better place to uncover more about it than massive clusters?
Astronomers have already mapped dark matter in three of the six clusters and discovered some pretty interesting stuff. For example, Abell 370 appears to have two distinct clumps of dark matter. This implies that the cluster actually formed from the merging of two smaller clusters – a cosmic collision that generated one of the largest and most fascinating objects in the universe.
Galaxy clusters are the biggest gravitationally bound objects in the universe. They can host thousands of galaxies as well as incredibly hot gas and dark matter.
Abell 370 in all its glory. NASA/ESA/Hubble/HST Frontier Fields