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Published January 2, 2015 | public
Journal Article Open

Gravitational Lensing: Einstein's unfinished symphony

Abstract

Gravitational lensing – the deflection of light rays by gravitating matter – has become a major tool in the armoury of the modern cosmologist. Proposed nearly a hundred years ago as a key feature of Einstein's theory of general relativity, we trace the historical development since its verification at a solar eclipse in 1919. Einstein was apparently cautious about its practical utility and the subject lay dormant observationally for nearly 60 years. Nonetheless there has been rapid progress over the past twenty years. The technique allows astronomers to chart the distribution of dark matter on large and small scales thereby testing predictions of the standard cosmological model which assumes dark matter comprises a massive weakly-interacting particle. By measuring the distances and tracing the growth of dark matter structure over cosmic time, gravitational lensing also holds great promise in determining whether the dark energy, postulated to explain the accelerated cosmic expansion, is a vacuum energy density or a failure of general relativity on large scales. We illustrate the wide range of applications which harness the power of gravitational lensing, from searches for the earliest galaxies magnified by massive clusters to those for extrasolar planets which temporarily brighten a background star. We summarise the future prospects with dedicated ground and space-based facilities designed to exploit this remarkable physical phenomenon.

Additional Information

© 2015 Taylor & Francis. Received 3 November 2014; accepted 21 December 2014. TT acknowledges support by National Areonautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Packard Foundation through a Packard Research Fellowship. TT thanks the American Academy in Rome and the Observatory of Monteporzio Catone for their kind hospitality during the writing of this manuscript.

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