Hubble Telescope discovers ancient quasar with brightness of 600-trillion suns

Federico Mansilla
Enero 10, 2019

A quasar is the extremely bright nucleus of an active galaxy and its powerful glow is created by the incredible amounts of energy released by gas falling toward the supermassive black hole at its centre.

"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".

All galaxies have a supermassive black hole at their cores.

The rapidly-spinning disk spews jets of particles moving outward at speeds approaching that of light.

A red shift value of 6.51 is one of the largest recorded by astronomers and helped to closely estimate the age of the quasar.

"At 1723 UTC on Jan 8, the Wide Field Camera 3 on the Hubble Space Telescope suspended operations due to a hardware problem", according to a short statement. The discovery gives scientists a better look at the universe's early years and helps them understand how supermassive black holes form and evolve.

Astronomers said the quasar has a brightness equivalent to about 600 trillion suns and the supermassive black hole powering it is several hundred million times as massive as our sun.

This compares to the Milky Way which produces about one new star every year.

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Lead author Xiaohui Fan, of the University of Arizona, said he did not expect to find many quasars brighter than this in the whole universe.

He added: 'That's something we have been looking for a long time.

"We don't expect to find many quasars brighter than that in the whole observable universe".

Earth's atmosphere made deciphering the images hard and only by using Hubble were scientists able to identify the quasar image is split into three components. The intervening, or lensing, galaxy in this case makes the quasar appear 50 times brighter than it would otherwise.

The astronomers only came across it because of a galaxy in the foreground that acted as a gravitational lens - amplifying the ancient light from the quasar.

Named after the American astronomer Edwin Hubble, the veteran telescope has been cranking away for more than quarter of century since it was launched in 1990.

Scientists will begin gathering data on the quasar including using the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope to try to identify the chemical composition and temperatures of intergalactic gas in the early universe.

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