SMACS J0723.3-7327 Galaxy Cluster: Gravitational Lenses

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A gravitational lens, as predicted by Einstein general theory of relativity, is a distribution of matter or a point particle between a distant light source and an observer, and such matter is capable to bending light from the source as light travels toward the observer, and although Einstein made unpublished calculations in 1912, Khvolson 1924 and Link 1936 officially first discussed the effect of gravitational lens, however the official study is more commonly associated to Einstein 1936. 

Cfr. : Khvolson O. 1924 : Über eine mögliche Form fiktiver Doppelsterne “ in Astronomische Nachrichten 221 (20): 329-330

Einstein A. 1936 “Lens-like action of a star by the deviation of light in the gravitational field” in Science 84 (2188):506-507

Unlike an optical lens, a point-like gravitational one produces as maximum deflection of light as the closest light passes to its center, and a minimum furthest from it, consequently scholars commonly agree that such gravitational lens has no focal point but focal line. 

Observations in fact demonstrated that if the light source, the massive matter acting as a lens, and the observer all lie in a straight line, the original source will appear as a ring around the massive lensing object named “Einstein ring”, or “Einstein–Chwolson ring” or “Chwolson ring “: ring effect was first mentioned in the academic literature by Orest Khvolson in previously mentioned article of 1924, in which he mentioned the “halo effect” of gravitation when the source, lens, and observer are in near-perfect alignment. 

Misalignment between the observer, matter lens and source of light will be appreciate by observer like an arc segment. 

Ring-like structure, size, and family of multiple source of light geometry observation and measurement:

The geometry of a complete Einstein ring, caused by a gravitational lens with the size given by the Einstein radius.

Micro lensing techniques have been used to search for planets outside our solar system, as for instance according to Cassan et al. 2012 statistical analysis of specific cases of observed microlensing over a period of 2002 to 2007 found that most stars in the Milky Way galaxy hosted at least one orbiting planet within 0.5 to 10 astronomical units. 

Cfr. Cassan A. , Kubas D. , Beaulieu J. , Dominik M. , Horne K. , Greenhill J. , Wambsganss J. , Menzies J. , Williams A. 2012 “One or more bound planets per Milky Way star from microlensing observations” in Nature 481 (7380):167-169

Galaxy cluster

According to Atek et al. 2015 galaxy clusters can be considered as the most massive structure in actual known Universe and are therefore powerful cosmic instruments for observing faint and distant sources via gravitational lensing effect. 

As indicated by Caminha et al. 2016b and by Vanzella et al. 2020, 2021, lensing magnification obtained by observing trough galaxy cluster can reach factors of ~ 100 – 1000, as when a background source of light, i.e. a galaxy, lies between observer and galaxy cluster, light rays from the sources are deflected by gravitational potential of the foreground cluster; source is thus gravitationally lenses by the cluster. 

Moreover, as suggested by Bradač et al. 2006 and by Clowe et al. 2006, position and morphologies of multiple lensed images also allow to speculate about the distribution of matter, particularly dark matter, in the galaxy cluster, crucial topic for understanding nature of dark matter. 

Julio et al. 2010, Acebron et al. 2017, Caminha et al. 2016a and 2022 pushed further, as an individual galaxy cluster often lenses several background sources into several corresponding “families” of multiple images that straddle different locations around the galaxy cluster, and families of multiple images formed by sources in different redshift provide possible measurements of angular diameter distance ratios between cluster and source, allowing researchers to focus about the study of the geometry of the universe. 

Refsdal 1964; Suyu et al. 2010; Kelly et al. 2015; Grillo et al. 2018 and 2020 believe that strong lensing galaxy clusters are therefore excellent laboratories for astrophysical and cosmological studies as in case where a background source is timy-varying, as a quasar or a supernova, the time delays between multiple images study provides to speculate measurements of the “time-delay distance” and the Hubble constant that sets the expansion rate of actual known Universe. 

According to Rigby et al. 2022, James Webb Space Telescope operating in infrared provides unprecedented observation of high-redshift sources in terms of sensitivity and angular resolution. 

Combination of JWST capacities and galaxy cluster lensing consent to observe inherently faint sources like distant galaxies which are the first formed and which evolved into structures that we see today. 

Among these targets JWST focused on its first cosmic target to galaxy cluster SMACS J0723.3-7327 discovered by Ebeling et al. 2001 and Repp & Ebeling 2018. 

According to Caminha et al. 2022 JWST observations practically doubled number of families of multiple images previously detected by Hubble Space Telescope. 

Hubble observations of SMACS J0723 cover an area of 3.36 arcmin x 3.36 arcmin and were obtained by f435w, f606w and f814w filters of ACS – Advanced Camera for Surveys, and in f105w, f125w, f140w and f160w of WFC3 – Wide Field Camera 3 all available and retrieved at Mikulski Archive. 

Caminha et al. 2017b, 2019 and 2022 produced by Hubble data plus MUSE data of SMACS J0723 a final redshift catalogue containing 78 secure and precise redshift measurements. 

SMACS J0723 was observed by James Webb scope by Near Infrared Camera – NIRCam and MIRI – Mid-Infrared Instrument and spectroscopy was obtained trough the NIRSpec – Near Infrared Spectrograph. 

According to Pontoppidan et al. 2022 and Méndez-Abreu et al. 2023, with a single filter total exposure of about 7.500 seconds divided in nine dither patterns to optimize image quality NIRCam records were taken on 2022 June 7th, carried out in filters f090w, f150w, f200w, f277w, f356w and f444w, covering a wavelength range between 0.8nm to ~ 5.0nm. 

Webb scope NIRCam FoV observes a 9.7 arcmin 2 (al quadrato) field with a ~44 arcsec gap separating two 2.2 arcmin x 2.2 arcmin areas, with one camera centers on the cluster and another on an adjacent field, covering a smaller area of J0723 respect to Hubble imaging. 

According to Caminha et al. 2022, Webb Scope NIRCam wavelengths and high spatial resolution records, aligned to HST data took to identify new 30 additional secure multiple images from 11 individual sources, extremely faint or not detected in the Hubble optical and near infrared imaging, whilst Before the release of James Webb scope NIRCam imaging of  SMACS J0723 dataset available from Hubble plus photometry from RELICS program and spectroscopy from MUSE identified 23 cluster members in the redshift range of 0.367 – 0.408 corresponding to a rest-frame velocity of + – 3000 km/s from the cluster mean redshift of z=0.387; these pre JWST studies evinced according to Caminha et Al. 2022 in 19 multiple images as input from six families. 

In conclusion, Webb scope actual studies of NIRCam records focused about SMACS J0723 scholars have doubled the number of model constraints, increasing the number of multiple images from the 19 identified with Hubble and MUSE datasets to 49. 

According to Méndez-Abreu and colleagues 2023 observations obtained by NIRCam provides new data in the study of the evolution of barred galaxy, as the central role of stellar bars in the secular evolution of galaxies discs is generally accepted: as founded by Hubble 1926 and Buta et al 2015 they represent the main structure modifying the morphology of galaxies in the central ~ kpc and according to Debattista & Sellwood 2000, Martinez-Valpuesta et al. 2007 and Sellwood 2014 they influence the angular momentum redestribution between the baryon of and dark matter component of galaxies. 

Evolution of the bar fraction with cosmic time has been matter of several studies due to its implications on the settlement of the first rotationally dominated discs. According to Sellwood 2014 and Méndez-Abreu 2023 bars can be formed spontaneously in cold galaxy discs in a relative quick phase (<=1 Gyr) and assuming as right as they are long lived, the presence of a bar can be used as a clock to time the formation of discs. 

Martinet & Friedli 1997, Sheth et al. 2005, Ellison et al. 2011 identify in galaxies bars the parts with the ability to funnel material towards the galaxy core where starburst can ignite; Kormedy & Kennicut 2004, Athansas-soula 2005, Bittner et al. 2020 with Gadotti et al. 2020, all agree that they contribute to the formation of bulge-like structures. 

Buta 1995, Muñoz-Tuñón et al. 2004 identifies in bars the main inner star forming ring’s cause. 

Importance of bars in understanding galaxy evolution is also given by their ubiquity in disc galaxies in the local Universe (z < 0.1) with actual galaxy population optical studies generally described as barred by ~50%, with slight increase by infrared observations; Cfr. Aguerri et al. 2009; sbarazza et Al. 2008, Eskridge et al. 2000, Marinova & Jogee 2007, Menéndez-Delmestre et al. 2007, Erwin 2018. 

According to Méndez-Abreu and colleagues 2023 most of our knowledge about the formation and evolution of bars has been produced using local galaxy samples, and studying SMACS J0723.3-7327 galaxy cluster using the new capabilities of Webb scope coincides with the possibility of measure the fraction of barred galaxies in a cluster with redshift z=0.39, and NIRCam imaging features overcome previous problem of spatial resolution, bar identification at rest-frame wavelengths, and depth of the observations. 

Méndez-Abreu et al 2023 studies for barred galaxies identification and classification started from NIRCam f200w filter integration master, with first step as identification of cluster J0723 members, consisting in 188 certain galaxies. 

Identification of bars was made by Méndez-Abreu setting up a private project using the Zooniverse Panoptes Project Builder, creating .fits cutouts of cluster members and converting each one in a single arcsinh stretched frame, with the result of 20 secure barred galaxies and 15 uncertain out of 188 members. 

Méndez statistical analysis shows that bar fraction distribution in SMACS J0723 cluster is a strong function of galaxy mass, results which compared with the state of art of observational and theoretical studies appears little increasing, probably dued both to different criteria in selection (angular momentum vs morphology) and improved capabilities of JWST/NIRCam respect to previous instrument in terms of spatial resolution and image depth. 

The mechanism inhibiting the formation of bars in cluster seems act relatively quickly after galaxies enter into the cluster potential, with a scenario where cluster environment affects the formation of bars in a mass-dependent way. At high masses it seems plausibile to assert a weak effect of cluster environment possibly triggering bar formation, whilst at low masses galaxies bars formation seems to be severely inhibited by cluster setting. 

M16 (NGC 6611) and the Pillars of Creation: a James Webb Space Telescope records study

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According to Greg T. Bacon of the Space Telescope Science Institute of Baltimora [ 20/07/2023 ] stars cluster belonging to M16 consist in a group of around 8.000 formed roughly 5.5 milion years ago, immersing within a cloud of gas and dust illuminated by the central cluster of bright youngest new formed stars.

The Pillars of Creation sit inside this wide region of gas and dust being pushed from the inside out by powerful stellar winds. 

The winds blow back the edges of the cloud, creating dense regions that then collapse under their own gravity to form stars. 

The characteristic fingers of the Pillars are some of the densest gas in this region, hanging on against the strong winds. 

In the visible-light view they are entirely in shadow: such visible-light gazing shows the illumination of the inside of the gas and dust. 

James Webb scope focused about the iconic Pillars of Creation, immense towers carved out of the cold dust by high-energy electromagnetic radiation emitted by the hot stars. 

Webb NIRCAM eye investigating the pillars of gas and dust which block visible light, reveals what is under nebulosity  concealing, with stars forming within them shining of  infrared light through the dust-block, revealing stars forming within the pillars as well as stars far beyond; X-ray light also shines through the pillars, revealing extremely hot stars, most of which lie beyond the nebula.

NIRCAM Near-Infrared shows cooler towers and field of dust with many young stars. 

MIRI records pointing at the bottom left shows the thickest regions of gas and dust, which appear light blue and dark gray-blue: there are many layers of semi-opaque gas and dust overlaying one another. 

The first pillar points to the top right of the image. 

There is one prominent red star, with tiny spikes at its tip. 

Lower on this pillar, which forms a diagonal from bottom left to top right, there are several darker areas of dust that jut out, many with bright red stars, which appear as small red dots. 

Below the top pillar are two slightly smaller, both ending in dark gray-blue regions: the second pillar has a dark arch that looks like an upside-down L halfway down, while the third pillar is set off in dark blue and gray shades. 

At the bottom left is another overlapping area of gas and dust that forms a peak, but is also colored in various shades of gray and light blue. 

Background of this scene is washed in shades of deep red and light red. Toward the top center, a V shape appears above the top-most pillar. At its lowest point, it is brilliant red. There are only several dozen tiny bright white and blue stars. Larger stars appear redder and are embedded in the pillars.

According to Claire Blome and Christine Pulliam – Space Telescope Science Institue of Baltimore – Mid-infrared light set such a somber, chilling mood in Webb’s Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) because interstellar dust cloaks the scene, and while mid-infrared light specializes in detailing where dust is, the stars aren’t bright enough at these wavelengths to appear. Instead, these looming, leaden-hued pillars of gas and dust gleam at their edges, hinting at the activity within.

*** Processing method ***

.fits level 3 calibration raw data I downloaded from portal.

NIRCAM set is made of 6 .fit image recording pillars by filter f090w, f187n, f200w, f335m, f444w and f444w+f470n.

After linear fit to f200w band, according to NIRCAM filters guideline, I considered f444w and f470n as the highest signal available, to be processed as red in colour mapping.

Blue mapping I assigned to the lowest band records available, thus melting f090w and f187n in PixelMath; the same for f200w and f335m melting for the middle signal green color in rgb layout.

RGB channel combination produced a greenish dominated master, processed in PixInSight by very soft bg removal, denoising workflow, starXterminator work for starless and stars separate file. 

I thus focused on starless master for color manipulation by color mask and curves transformation, dark area enhancing, denoising and final blurxTerminating for details revelation.

I finally reconstructed starry image in Photoshop by screen blending mode of stars layer group over starless one, with each group adjustement and pixel-fixing independetly made.

MIRI image followed a similiar processing work, with peculiar feature of very very intense pixel fixing intervent, both in stars and starless level.

Starless image after pixel fixing and color calibration I find simply astonishing.

Starry final image reconstruction with few adjustements intervent

JWST NIRCam starless and luminance approach for postprocessing

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NGC2070 Tarantula Nebula in Dorado, JWST NIRCAM raw data

After processing James Webb Space Telescope raw calibrated .fit data focused about NGC2070 by Photoshop screen colorized blending layers, with colours assigned according to NIRCAM filters guideline (cfr.: ) I was able to obtain this preliminary result.

Integration of NIRCAM f090W, f187N, f200W, f335M and f444W filters

According to spectrum values indicated by NIRCAM filters guidelines I decided a different approach for postproduction, considering the lowest nm values as “blue” colour band, the middle nm values as green, and the highest nm as red channel for an RGB combination.

Using Pixelmath I thus combined in PixInSight f090W and f187N masters creating my blue channel, f200W and f335N as the green channel, and f444W master for red channel.

NIRCAM f090W + f187N filter integration (PixInSight > Pixelmath)
NIRCAM f200W + f335N filter integration (PixInSight > Pixelmath)
NIRCAM f444W filter

Being NIRCAM data results of very narrowband recordings, I approach such masters as a peculiar SHO integration, and decided to attempt a starless integration for nebula details and colours work, and final recomposition of starry image using star luminance layer.

Starless version of each master I obtained by PixInSight > Starnet2. Each master I then stretched and export as .tiff in Photoshop for contrast adjustement, star residual removing and hot pixels fixing.

Starless NIRCAM f090W + f187N filter integration
Starless NIRCAM f200W + f335N filter integration
Starless NIRCAM f444W filter

In Photoshop I imported each master into pertinent RGB channel. Then I provide to contrast, saturation and Brightness adjustement layers and fix other pixels problem emerged from channels combination.

Starless LRGB integration where: L=f444W R=f444W G=f200W+f335N B=f090W+f187M JWST NIRCAM NGC2070

Starry NIRCAM f444W filter master as luminance was finally imported as upper layer in luminosity blending mode, while starless f444W master for starless version.

JWST NIRCam NGC2070 Tarantula Nebula

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James Webb Space Telescope NIRCam NGC2070 “Tarantula Nebula” , filters f090W, f187N, f200W, f335M and f444W

Photoshop screen blending mode and colorizing layers of f090W, f187N, f200W, f335M, f444W master calibrated RAW .fit data of James Webb Space Telescope NIRCAM mosaic photo session focused on NGC 2070.


NGC1365, approaching to JWST MIRI data

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NGC 1365 JWST MIRI mosaic, filters f770W, f1000W, f1130W and f2100W

According to James Webb Space Telescope official documentation (cfr. the JWST Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) provides imaging and spectroscopic observing modes from 4.9 to 27.9 μm. These wavelengths can be utilized for studies including, but not limited to: direct imaging of young warm exoplanets and spectroscopy of their atmospheres; identification and characterization of the first galaxies at redshifts z > 7; and analysis of warm dust and molecular gas in young stars and proto-planetary disks.

MIRI imaging filter curves and wavelenght are resumed below

MIRI imaging filter curves –, figure 3

MIRI coronagraphic imaging filter curves –, figure 4

From Mikulksky Archive for Space Telescopes I downloaded raw calibrated .tif data focused about NGC 1365 Great Barred Spiral Galaxy, a double-barred spiral galaxy about 56 million light-years away in the constellation Fornax.

Among all data available I picked-up 3 sessions: a wide field MIRI mosaic by filters f770W, f1000W, f1130W and f2100W, a small field MIRI mosaic by the same filters f770W, f1000W, f1130W and f2100W a small NIRCAM field mosaic by filters f200W, f300M, f335M and f360M.

NGC 1365 JWST MIRI mosaic, filters f770W, f1000W, f1130W and f2100W
NGC 1365 JWST NIRCAM mosaic, filters f200W, f300M, f335M, f360M

NGC 3324: approaching JWST raw data (.fits) for post-production attempt

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After and according to Warren Keller intro and divulgation paper focused about James Webb Space Telescope raw data availability from MAST Portal, archive named after Barbara Mikulski fulls of tons and tons of data including Hubble Space Telescope’s .fits calibrated frames, I’ve downloaded a couple of sets focused on NGC 3132 and NGC 3324 to begin an attempt of post-processing.

Browsing mast portal is kinda experience within a state of art information retrieval system: filters options permits to produce precise queries for matching desired set of data. 

JWST target session produce .zip archives tagged, among other criteria, by NIRCAM, MIRI and NIRSPEC instrument label. 

According to JWST user documentation [10/02/2023]

with hardware specifications, and as according to Warren Keller [15/02/2023]

and Nico Carver [15/02/2023]

suggestions and guidelines about JWST raw data elaboration and post production, most convenient and useful data for an Astrophotographic approach come from NIRCAM sensors and filters. 

NIR camera JWST official documentation guidelines specifies and classifies the following filters wheels clusters:

and resumes microns wavelength of filters set as pictured below :


and cfr KWST user documentation

Wavelength and filters label specification, assigned to visible spectrum compass, as confirmed by Keller and Carver tributes, suggests and permits two approach as attempt of post-production and elaboration of JWST NIRCam available data:

  1. a “simplified” RGB or LRGB image integration by channel combination
  2. a “more complex” image integration by available channel combination

An RGB or LRGB approach is “simple” as it consists essentially in identifying proper NIRCAM filter most representative data for RGB channels and integrate them by simple melting channel combination in – for instance – PixInSight: Process > Channel Management > Combination.

NGC 3324 NIRCAM filters available data are f090W, f187N, f200W, f335M, f444W and MIRI f770W, f1130W, f1280W, f1800W. 

MAST portal retrieved data for NGC3324 filter by JWST mission

Letting MIRI data to further investigation, I focused on NIRCAM range records download them all.

Each .zip archives exploded out as follow:

file of interest is the _i2d.fits file, generally speaking the biggest among all records.

Opening it in PixInSight generate 8 preview:

A quick autostretch easily let us identify the proper image which I always found as the first, thus the downer pop-up opened.

In the name of .fits file are indicated which filter belongs to, thus it’s very easy to select.

Among JWST data from NIRCAM records focus about NGC 3324 I thought the lowest and more representative for blue channel could be f090W, whilst f444W for red and middle f335M for green.

Before channel combination I did proceed for a star registration of the whole masters, choosing f444W as reference.

I thus integrated all registered frames in percentile clipping and saved the .xifs integration as luminance.

“Simple” [L]RGB is about to end by:

RGB final integration by Process > Channel Management > Channel Combination

LRGB final integration by Process > All Process > LRGB Combination

About more “complex” 6 channel integration I just stretched very lightly by manual Histogram Transformation and export each filter master registered file as .tiff.

Using luminance as bg layer, I thus imported as layer each filter, according to Carver tutorial in screen mode blending with 50% opacity, by adjustment layer/saturation colorizing and boosting/decreasing saturation and luminance trying to respect NIRCAM wavelenght filters charts; take care to change Image > Mode to RGB from greyscale as very first step after luminance opening in Photoshop.

Finally applying an adjustment/curves layers to each filter and retouching pertinent saturation I try to obtain the most balance and well colored images, imho absolutely subjective pov.

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