Imaging the cosmic matter distribution using gravitational lensing of pre-galactic H i




21-cm emission from neutral hydrogen during and before the epoch of cosmic reionization is gravitationally lensed by material at all lower redshifts. Low-frequency radio observations of this emission can be used to reconstruct the projected mass distribution of foreground material, both light and dark. We compare the potential imaging capabilities of such 21-cm lensing with those of future galaxy lensing surveys. We use the Millennium Simulation to simulate large-area maps of the lensing convergence with the noise, resolution and redshift-weighting achievable with a variety of idealized observation programmes. We find that the signal-to-noise ratio of 21-cm lens maps can far exceed that of any map made using galaxy lensing. If the irreducible noise limit can be reached with a sufficiently large radio telescope, the projected convergence map provides a high-fidelity image of the true matter distribution, allowing the dark matter haloes of individual galaxies to be viewed directly, and giving a wealth of statistical and morphological information about the relative distributions of mass and light. For instrumental designs like that planned for the Square Kilometre Array, high-fidelity mass imaging may be possible near the resolution limit of the core array of the telescope.