Searching for Highly Magnified Stars at Cosmological Distances: Discovery of a Redshift 0.94 Blue Supergiant in Archival Images of the Galaxy Cluster MACS J0416.1-2403 Academic Article uri icon


  • Individual highly magnified stars have been recently discovered at lookback times of more than half the age of the Universe, in lensed galaxies that straddle the critical curves of massive galaxy clusters. Having confirmed their detectability, it is now important to carry out systematic searches for them in order to establish their frequency, and in turn learn about the statistical properties of high-redshift stars and of the granularity of matter in the foreground deflector. Here we report the discovery of a highly magnified star at redshift $z = 0.94$ in a strongly lensed arc behind a Hubble Frontier Field galaxy cluster, MACS J0416.1-2403, discovered as part of a systematic archival search. The bright transient (dubbed "Warhol") was discovered in Hubble Space Telescope data taken on 2014 September 15 and 16. This single image faded over a period of two weeks, and observations taken on 2014 September 1 show that the duration of the microlensing event was at most four weeks in total. The light curve may also exhibit slow changes over a period of years consistent with the level of microlensing expected from stars responsible for the intracluster light (ICL) of the cluster. Optical and infrared observations taken near peak brightness can be fit by a stellar spectrum with moderate host-galaxy extinction. A blue supergiant matches the measured spectral energy distribution near peak, implying a temporary magnification of at least several thousand. While the spectrum of an O-type star would also fit the transient's spectral energy distribution, extremely luminous O-type stars are much less common than blue supergiants. The short timescale of the event and the estimated effective temperature indicate that the lensed source is an extremely magnified star.

publication date

  • August 6, 2019