Assistant Professor of Physics Natalia Connolly was recently named the recipient of a $15,000 research grant from the Hubble Space Telescope Cycle E/PO Grant Program. Connolly’s grant is a companion grant to a research program on the phenomenon of strong-lensing, a program for which Connolly is co-investigator.
Strong-lensing is a phenomenon in a which a lensing object (normally a massive galaxy or collection of galaxies) causes the light from an object behind it to bend due to the lensing object’s gravitational pull. When viewed through a telescope, the resultant image of the background object can be analyzed to determine the mass of the lensing object. One exciting facet of this technology is its applicability in locating dark matter. Because dark matter cannot be seen, it is only detectable from its gravitational effects on visible matter.
Connolly’s grant is for an outreach project designed to promote an understanding of strong-lensing among the general public and to show young students what astronomical research is like. Connolly and her colleagues have been awarded time on the Hubble Space Telescope to observe several strong-lensing systems, and Connolly will be working with a high school teacher and several high school students to develop a website that will feature the results of her research and explain some of the science behind strong-lensing. More advanced students may have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in astronomical image processing.