Astronomers have captured a spectacular image of the Abell 370 galaxy cluster embedded among nearly 8,000 previously-unseen galaxies across space and time. The photo was captured as part of the Beyond Ultra-deep Frontier Fields and Legacy Observations (BUFFALO) survey, a project that is jointly led by Dr. Mathilde Jauzac (Durham University) and Dr. Charles Steinhardt (Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen), and involves an international team of nearly 100 astronomers from 13 countries.
The BUFFALO survey is a new project of the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. Its mission is to shed light on the evolution of the earliest galaxies in the universe, as well as expand the telescope's view of largely uncharted regions of the universe. Approximately 160 hours of Hubble observing time is scheduled for the BUFFALO project. During that time, astronomers will observe six massive galaxy clusters and their surroundings.
The Abell 370 galaxy cluster, which is located approximately 4 billion light years from earth and lies at the center of the new image, was the first target of the BUFFALO survey. The cluster consists of dark matter and several hundred galaxies. Its mass acts as a natural telescope that bends and magnifies the light of faraway objects, allowing scientists to see further into space beyond the cluster. This effect is known as gravitational lensing.
A University of Michigan postdoc, Dr. Anna Niemiec, will use the new data from the BUFFALO survey to uncover the dark matter that is lurking in the Abell 370 cluster of galaxies. Dark matter, which doesn't emit, absorb, or reflect light, is invisible to our instruments, but can be inferred by the gravitational lensing effect of its mass on the fabric of space-time. Dr. Niemiec, along with Dr. Guillaume Mahler and Prof. Keren Sharon at the University of Michigan Astronomy Department, will use sophisticated computational techniques and Einstein's General Relativity to understand the physics behind these outstanding Hubble images.