Can Einstein's biggest theory be proven on the grandest of scales?

This galaxy distorts light travelling towards Earth from a more distant galaxy that lies directly behind it.

Since then the mathematics behind massive bodies putting a dent in the fabric of space-time has been given a shake over and over again, but only for objects no larger than stars.

While this lensing effect of whole galaxies has occasionally been put to practical use, nobody had measured the phenomenon with a view to put a precise figure on the absolute curvature they produced. The theory explains how this distortion is felt as the force of gravity, as it predicts how much the mass of an object curves space-time. However, this interpretation relies on GR being the correct theory of gravity on cosmological scales.

Since one galaxy was positioned in front of the other, the light from the background galaxy was warped and magnified by the foreground galaxy's gravity, creating what's known as a "gravitational lens".

Scientists performed this tests by knowing the mass of ESO 325-G004 from previous observations and then measuring the gravitational lensing that was being caused by using the Hubble Space Telescope.

General relativity has been tested with extreme precision on the scale of the solar system, and astronomers now are studying the motions of stars orbiting a supermassive black hole at the core of the Milky Way in yet another test. This is for the first time ever that the Einstein's general theory of relativity has undergone such massive testing at a significant level. The latest findings, for example, could have implications for alternative theories of gravity, according to the researchers.

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Collett continues "We know the mass of the foreground galaxy from MUSE and we measured the amount of gravitational lensing we see from Hubble".

In essence, this means that gravity should behave differently on an astronomical scale than how it might appear on a solar system scale.

"Our result validates GR on scales up to 6000 light years", Collett said.

Since then GR has passed a series of tests within the Solar System, but there have been no highly precise tests of GR on large astronomical scales.

"The Universe is an incredible place providing such lenses which we can then use as our laboratories", adds team member Professor Bob Nichol, Director of the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation.

The global team is comprised of: Thomas E. Collett (Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation, University of Portsmouth, UK), Lindsay J. Oldham (Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge, UK, and Harvard College, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, USA), Russell Smith (Centre for Extragalactic Astronomy, University of Durham, UK), Matthew W. Auger (Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge, UK), Kyle B. Westfall (ICG, Portsmouth, UK, and University of California, Santa Cruz, USA), David Bacon (ICG, Portsmouth, UK), Robert C. Nichol (ICG, Portsmouth, UK), Karen L. Masters (ICG, Portsmouth, UK), Kazuya Koyama (ICG, Portsmouth, UK) and Remco van den Bosch (Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Garching, Germany). "It is so satisfying to use the best telescopes in the world to challenge Einstein, only to find out how right he was". It has 15 Member States: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, along with the host state of Chile and with Australia as a strategic partner. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research.



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