Galaxy-Scale Strong-Lensing Tests of Gravity and Geometric Cosmology: Constraints and Systematic Limitations

The Astrophysical Journal, Volume 708, Issue 1, pp. 750-757 (2010)

Josiah Schwab, Adam Bolton and Saul Rappaport

Galaxy-scale strong gravitational lenses with measured stellar velocity dispersions allow a test of the weak-field metric on kiloparsec scales and a geometric measurement of the cosmological distance-redshift relation, provided that the mass-dynamical structure of the lensing galaxies can be independently constrained to a sufficient degree. We combine data on 53 galaxy-scale strong lenses from the Sloan Lens ACS Survey with a well-motivated fiducial set of lens-galaxy parameters to find (1) a constraint on the post-Newtonian parameter γ = 1.01 ± 0.05, and (2) a determination of ΩΛ = 0.75 ± 0.17 under the assumption of a flat universe. These constraints assume that the underlying observations and priors are free of systematic error. We evaluate the sensitivity of these results to systematic uncertainties in (1) total mass-profile shape, (2) velocity anisotropy, (3) light-profile shape, and (4) stellar velocity dispersion. Based on these sensitivities, we conclude that while such strong-lens samples can, in principle, provide an important tool for testing general relativity and cosmology, they are unlikely to yield precision measurements of γ and ΩΛ unless the properties of the lensing galaxies are independently constrained with substantially greater accuracy than at present.