The latest citizen science project from Zooninverse wants you to help scientists find zoom lenses in space.
Massive objects, such as stars or galaxies, bend space in such a way that passing light rays curve around them. This means that they end up mimicking the lens in a magnifying glass, and the effect is called a “gravitational lens.”
A gravitational lens can have a a magnification factor up to x10 or even more, which gives us a zoomed-in peek at the distant universe behind them. As you might imagine, scientists are very interested in gravitational lenses because of what we can see and learn with them, but they’re very rare. A new project called SpaceWarps wants you to help researchers find them.
To participate, you will register or login (with your Zooinverse details, if you have participated in previous Zooninverse projects) with the SpaceWarps website, and then look at images to see if you can spot galaxies acting as lens. The work will require a keen eye and attention to detail; fortunately, the site provides a handy visual spotter’s guide to demonstrate what a lens looks like and doesn’t look like.
Incidentally, Einstein’s General Relativity theory of gravity predicted gravitational lenses. Evidence for this phenomenon was first obtained by Arthur Eddington in 1919, when he was observing a solar eclipse. He noticed that stars near the edge of the Sun appeared to be out of position.