Research Article

The Detection of a Population of Submillimeter-Bright, Strongly Lensed Galaxies

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Science  05 Nov 2010:
Vol. 330, Issue 6005, pp. 800-804
DOI: 10.1126/science.1193420

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Through a Lens Brightly

Astronomical sources detected in the submillimeter range are generally thought to be distant, dusty galaxies undergoing a vigorous burst of star formation. They can be detected because the dust absorbs the light from stars and reemits it at longer wavelengths. Their properties are still difficult to ascertain, however, because the combination of interference from dust and the low spatial resolution of submillimeter telescopes prevents further study at other wavelengths. Using data from the Herschel Space Telescope, Negrello et al. (p. 800) showed that by searching for the brightest sources in a wide enough area in the sky it was possible to detect gravitationally lensed submillimeter galaxies with nearly full efficiency. Gravitational lensing occurs when the light of an astronomical object is deflected by a foreground mass. This phenomenon increases the apparent brightness and angular size of the lensed objects, making it easier to study sources that would be otherwise too faint to probe.


Gravitational lensing is a powerful astrophysical and cosmological probe and is particularly valuable at submillimeter wavelengths for the study of the statistical and individual properties of dusty star-forming galaxies. However, the identification of gravitational lenses is often time-intensive, involving the sifting of large volumes of imaging or spectroscopic data to find few candidates. We used early data from the Herschel Astrophysical Terahertz Large Area Survey to demonstrate that wide-area submillimeter surveys can simply and easily detect strong gravitational lensing events, with close to 100% efficiency.

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