Quantifying Environmental and Line-of-sight Effects in Models of Strong Gravitational Lens Systems

Curtis McCully, Charles R. Keeton, Kenneth C. Wong, Ann I. Zabludoff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


Matter near a gravitational lens galaxy or projected along the line of sight (LOS) can affect strong lensing observables by more than contemporary measurement errors. We simulate lens fields with realistic three-dimensional mass configurations (self-consistently including voids), and then fit mock lensing observables with increasingly complex lens models to quantify biases and uncertainties associated with different ways of treating the lens environment (ENV) and LOS. We identify the combination of mass, projected offset, and redshift that determines the importance of a perturbing galaxy for lensing. Foreground structures have a stronger effect on the lens potential than background structures, due to nonlinear effects in the foreground and downweighting in the background. There is dramatic variation in the net strength of ENV/LOS effects across different lens fields; modeling fields individually yields stronger priors for H 0 than ray tracing through N-body simulations. Models that ignore mass outside the lens yield poor fits and biased results. Adding external shear can account for tidal stretching from galaxies at redshifts Z ≥ Zlens , but it requires corrections for external convergence and cannot reproduce nonlinear effects from foreground galaxies. Using the tidal approximation is reasonable for most perturbers as long as nonlinear redshift effects are included. Even then, the scatter in H 0 is limited by the lens profile degeneracy. Asymmetric image configurations produced by highly elliptical lens galaxies are less sensitive to the lens profile degeneracy, so they offer appealing targets for precision lensing analyses in future surveys like LSST and Euclid.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number141
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 10 2017


  • cosmological parameters
  • gravitational lensing: strong
  • methods: data analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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