Empirical constraints on alternative gravity theories from gravitational lensing

Daniel J. Mortlock, Edwin L. Turner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


If it is hypothesized that there is no dark matter, then some alternative gravitational theory must take the place of general relativity (GR) on the largest scales. Dynamical measurements can be used to investigate the nature of such a theory, but only where there is visible matter. Gravitational lensing is potentially a more powerful probe as it can be used to measure deflections far from the lens and, for sufficiently large separations, allow it to be treated as a point-mass. Microlensing within the local group does not yet provide any interesting constraints, as only images formed close to the deflectors are appreciably magnified, but stacking of multiple light-curves and observations of microlensing on cosmological scales may be able to discriminate between GR and non-dark matter theories. Galaxy-galaxy lensing is likely to be a more powerful probe of gravity, with the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) commissioning data used here to constrain the deflection law of galaxies to be A(R) ∝ R0.1±0.1 for impact parameters in the range 50 kpc ≲ R ≲ 1 Mpc. Together with observations of flat rotation curves, these results imply that, in any gravitational theory, photons must experience (close to) twice the deflection of massive particles moving at the speed of light (at least on these physical scales). The full SDSS data set will also be sensitive to asymmetry in the lensing signal and to variation of the deflection law with galaxy type. A detection of either of these effects would represent an independent confirmation that galaxies are dark matter-dominated; conversely, azimuthal symmetry of the shear signal would rule out the typically ellipsoidal haloes predicted by most simulations of structure formation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)552-556
Number of pages5
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 21 2001

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Dark matter
  • Gravitation
  • Gravitational lensing
  • Relativity


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