The European Space Agency’s Planck mission captured the image above. You’re looking at a snapshot of our entire sky. The whitish band running through the middle? That’s the dust in our Milky Way Galaxy.
The black dots above and below the band are galaxy clusters identified by Planck and then studied more by the European Space Agency’s Herschel missions.
Planck and Herschel are two of ESA’s best space telescopes.
The pair spotted some of the oldest and rarest clusters of galaxies in our universe. Planck was able to spot the galaxies with its full-sky images, while Herschel zoomed in for a closer look.
Planck and Herschel also gave scientists a look far into the past, about 10 to 11 billion years ago.
“Finding so many intensely star-forming, dust galaxies in such concentrated groups was a huge surprise,” said Hervé Dole, lead author of the report. “We think this is a missing piece of cosmological structure formation.”
Researchers used gravitational lensing to magnify the galaxy clusters they wanted to observe. Researchers can use this technique when a galaxy appears in front of the target galaxy. The gravitational effect on light from the foreground galaxy creates a lensing effect that lets researchers zoom in on the background galaxy.
Here’s a NASA image illustrating the effect.
Around 200 galaxy clusters were identified, with researchers using gravitational lensing to spot many of them.
Researchers say there are even more discoveries to be made.
“Even when we combined the powerful capabilities of Planck and Herschel, we were only scratching the surface of the phenomena taking place at this critical era in the history of our universe, when stars, galaxies and clusters seem to be forming simultaneously,” said George Helou, director of the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “That’s one of the reasons this finding is exciting. It shows us that there is so much more to be learned.”
Want to see more gravitational lensing images? Check out this gallery of images from the Hubble Space Telescope. Every image there used gravitational lensing.