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Fri Jan 11, 2019, 12:19 AM

Ultrabright Quasar Lit Up the Early Universe

By Mara Johnson-Groh, Live Science Contributor | January 9, 2019 05:15pm ET

- click for image -


Astronomers have spotted the brightest quasar (shown here in artistic impression) yet discovered in the early universe.
Credit: ESA/Hubble, NASA, M. Kornmesser

Astronomers have just discovered a galaxy with a supermassive black hole at its core, and it's located over 12.8 billion light-years away from Earth, just a billion years shy of the Big Bang. Known as a quasar, this object is the brightest of its kind ever seen in the distant universe. The discovery gives scientists a better look at the universe's early years and helps them understand how supermassive black holes form and evolve.

The newfound quasar, dubbed UHS J043947.08+163415.7, was discovered by taking advantage of gravitational lensing, a phenomenon in which a distant object's light is magnified by the gravity of a closer object. The intervening, or lensing, galaxy in this case makes the quasar appear 50 times brighter than it would otherwise. [Big Bang to Civilization: 10 Amazing Origin Events]

"The reason this one was discovered was a bit lucky actually because the quasar is so bright and the lensing galaxy is very faint compared to all the other lensing galaxies we know," lead author and astronomer Xiaohui Fan, of the University of Arizona, told Live Science. "That object had been sitting in the database for a few years now, but no one had looked at that part of the sky for quasars, because we usually don't."

The quasar was found in the constellation Taurus, which is close to the plane of the Milky Way galaxy. Astronomers generally avoid looking for quasars in this region, because the abundance of stars and dust there drown out the faint quasar light.


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