Infoscience

Thesis

Gravitational lenses: time delays and the Hubble constant

The Hubble constant H0 is one of the most important parameters in cosmology, as it encodes the age of the Universe and is necessary for any distance determination at a cosmological scale. It is, however, only poorly constrained by traditional methods. The current favored value, H0 = 72±8 km s-1 Mpc-1, is provided by the HST Hubble constant Key Project (Freedman et al. 2001), which combines several Cepheid-calibrated distance indicators. This roughly 10% error nevertheless denotes only the statistical uncertainty in the determination of H0, while the possible systematical errors in the first step of the distance ladder (the distance to the Large Magellanic Cloud) may be of the same order of magnitude. Time delays between gravitationally lensed images of distant quasars can yield a more precise measurement of the Hubble constant, on a truly cosmic scale, and independently of any local distance calibrator. At the beginning of this thesis, time delays had been measured in only ten lensed systems, nine of which gave H0 estimates. However before 2004, no concerted and long term action has succeeded to apply the time delay method at a level of precision really competitive with other techniques. The major difficulties arise from the modeling of the lens mass distribution, and from the uncertainty on the time delay measurement itself, which was typically of about 10% in past monitoring programs. COSMOGRAIL (COSmological MOnitoring of GRAvItational Lenses) is an international collaboration initiated in April 2004 at the Laboratory of Astrophysics of EPFL, and which aims at measuring precise time delays for most known lensed quasars, in order to determine the Hubble constant down to an uncertainty of a few percent. This thesis took place at the beginning of COSMOGRAIL and consisted in setting up this large photometric monitoring. It addressed both issues of carrying out accurate photometry of faint blended sources and of obtaining well sampled light curves, in order to measure precise time delays. As part of the COSMOGRAIL project, I have been managing the monitoring of over twenty gravitationally lensed quasars with the 1-2m telescopes involved both in the Northern and Southern hemispheres, and organizing the data. The first crucial work of this thesis was then to develop an automated reduction pipeline able to produce an homogeneous data set from images acquired with very different telescopes. This pipeline was also needed to perform aperture photometry of all lensed quasars, in order to study their variability and define the monitoring priorities. The powerful MCS deconvolution algorithm (Magain, Courbin, & Sohy 1998) was greatly used in this work and allowed to highly improve the image resolution, with the aim of obtaining accurate photometric measurements of the individual quasar lensed images. I have finally tested and improved three different numerical techniques to determine time delays between the quasar components from their light curves. In this thesis, time delays have been determined in four systems. The first one was measured in the doubly imaged quasar SDSS J1650+4251, after two years of monitoring with the 1.5m telescope of Maidanak Observatory, in Uzbekistan. The quadruply lensed system RXS J1131–1231 was then studied and three time delays determined from 3-year observations with the Swiss Euler 1.2m telescope located at La Silla, in Chile. The photometric monitoring of the quadruple WFI J2033–4723 was also carried out with the Euler telescope, and data were then merged with those obtained by a second monitoring group, with the SMARTS 1.3m telescope at the Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory (CTIO), also located in Chile. Two time delays were measured in this system, after three years of observations, the close pair A1 – A2 remaining unresolved. Three time delays were determined in the quadruply imaged quasar HE0435–1223, after four years of optical monitoring with Euler, Mercator and Maidanak telescopes, to which photometric measurements by SMARTS 1.3m telescope were added. Euler and SMARTS merged data for the doubly imaged quasar QJ0158–4325 were also analysed, the size of the source accretion disk was measured, but we failed to determine a time delay due to the high amplitude of the microlensing variability in this system. The accuracies on time delay measurements reached in this thesis are of the order of 3-4% and show a clear improvement from the typical 10% uncertainties of past monitoring programs. These results were finally converted into estimates of the Hubble constant following different models of the lensing mass potential. The H0 mean value obtained when considering the individual determinations from twelve gravitationally lensed quasars with known time delays is H0 = 60 ± 7 km s-1 Mpc-1. This result is consistent with the current favored value, and above all promising, as including additional systems to this ensemble will surely provide tighter bounds on H0. In conclusion, the increasing number of time delay measurements and improvements in lens modeling should reduce the errors on the Hubble constant estimate provided by gravitational lensing. Conversely, the determination of more time delays should put further constraints on lens galaxy density profiles when using a prior on H0 from other studies.

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