Testing the uniqueness of gravitational lens mass models

Levi G. Walls, Liliya L.R. Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


The positions of images produced by the gravitational lensing of background sources provide unique insight into galaxy-lens mass distribution. However, even quad images of extended sources are not able to fully characterize the central regions of the host galaxy. Most previous work has focused either on the radial density profile of the lenses or localized substructure clumps. Here, we concentrate on the azimuthal mass asymmetries near the image circle. The motivation for considering such mass inhomogeneities is that the transition between the central stellar- and the outer dark matter-dominated regions, though well represented by a power-law density profile, is unlikely to be featureless, and encodes information about the dynamical state and assembly history of galaxies. It also happens to roughly coincide with the Einstein radius. We ask if galaxies that have mass asymmetries beyond ellipticity can be modelled with simpler lenses, i.e. can complex mass distributions masquerade as simple elliptical+shear lenses? Our preliminary study indicates that for galaxies with elliptical stellar and dark matter distributions, but with no mass asymmetry, and an extended source filling the diamond caustic, an elliptical+shear lens model can reproduce the images well, thereby hiding the potential complexity of the actual mass distribution. For galaxies with non-zero mass asymmetry, the answer depends on the size and brightness distribution of the source, and its location within the diamond caustic. In roughly half of the cases, we considered the mass asymmetries can easily evade detection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)655-665
Number of pages11
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - Nov 21 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 The Author(s). Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Royal Astronomical Society.


  • Dark matter
  • Galaxies: haloes
  • Gravitational lensing: strong


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