brightest quasar

Hubble finds quasar thought to be as bright as 600 trillion suns

Image credit: pa

The Hubble Space Telescope has been used to discover the brightest quasar ever seen in the early Universe with a brightness equivalent to 600-trillion suns.

Quasars form the nuclei of active galaxies and are created by a supermassive black hole, which is surrounded by an accretion disc. Gas falling toward the black hole releases incredible amounts of energy, which can be observed across all wavelengths.

Astronomers used data from the Hubble to find the ancient quasar, which they believe can provide an insight into the birth of galaxies when the Universe was about a billion years old. The quasar is so old that the light being received from it started its journey when the universe was only about a billion years old, it is believed to be around 13 billion years old now.

“That’s something we have been looking for a long time,” said Xiaohui Fan, lead author on a paper about the discovery. “We don’t expect to find many quasars brighter than that in the whole observable Universe!”

Astronomers said it is by far the brightest quasar yet discovered in the early universe.

Despite its brightness Hubble was able to spot it only because its appearance was strongly affected by strong gravitational lensing. A dim galaxy is located right between the quasar and Earth, bending the light from the quasar and making it appear three times as large and 50 times as bright as it would be without the effect of gravitational lensing.

The data shows not only that the supermassive black hole is absorbing matter at an extremely high rate but also that the quasar may be producing up to 10,000 stars per year, vastly more than the one star a year that the Milky Way is estimated to create.

“Its properties and its distance make it a prime candidate to investigate the evolution of distant quasars and the role supermassive black holes in their centres had on star formation,” said co-author Fabian Walter.

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.

The team also hope to use the Atacama Large Millimetre/Submillimetre Array and Nasa/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope due to be launched in 2021 to look at the supermassive black hole and directly measure the influence of its gravity on the surrounding gas and star formation.

Meanwhile, mysterious repeating energy bursts from deep space that some experts have suggested could be evidence of advanced aliens have been detected for only the second time. Fast radio bursts are millisecond-long flashes of radio waves whose origin is unknown. Most scientists believe they are generated by powerful astrophysical phenomena such as black holes or super-dense neutron stars but a few have suggested more outlandish theories including the suggestion that they emanate from planet-sized alien transmitters.

Professor Avid Loeb, from the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics in the US, argues that they could be evidence of incredibly advanced alien technology. Fast Radio Bursts were first detected accidentally in 2007, when a burst signal was spotted in radio astronomy data collected in 2001.

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