The European Space Agency's Euclid satellite, due for launch in 2020, will set astronomers a huge challenge: to analyze 100,000 strong gravitational lenses. The gravitational deflection of light from distant astronomical sources by massive galaxies (strong lenses) along the light path can create multiple images of the source that are not just visually stunning but also are valuable tools for probing our Universe.

In preparation for Euclid's challenge, researchers from the University of Nottingham have developed AutoLens, the first fully automated analysis software for strong gravitational lenses.

AutoLens demonstrated its capabilities with a stunning image of a strong gravitational lens system captured by the Hubble Space Telescope, said James Nightingale, who developed AutoLens together with his colleague, Dr. Simon Dye. "The software's reconstruction of the lensed source reveals in detail a distant pair of star-forming galaxies that are possibly in the early stages of merging. Within the lensed image of the source are small-scale distortions, which encode an imprint of how the lens galaxy's mass is distributed. AutoLens has a novel new approach to exploit this imprinted information and can accurately measure the distribution of dark matter in the lensing galaxy."

Historically, the analysis of strongly lensed images has been a very time-consuming process, requiring a large amount of manual input to study just one system. To date, only around 200 strong lens systems have been analyzed. AutoLens can be run on “massively parallel” computing architecture that uses multiple processors and requires no user input, so will be able to manage the huge amount of data delivered by the Euclid mission.