Astronomers uncover the brightest quasar in the early universe

It could hold the record for being the brightest in the early universe.

Astronomers uncover the brightest quasar in the early universe
Image: Yale University

The international research team has detected the brightest quasar yet known from the period when the universe’s star-making hydrogen gas became ionized, known as “reionization.” According to astronomers, the quasar’s brightness must be the result of gravitational lensing.

Gravitational lensing is a phenomenon by which the gravity of objects closer to Earth acts as a magnifying glass to observe objects much farther away in space.

This super bright quasar is dubbed as J043947.08+163415.7- shines with light equivalent to 600 trillion suns and is located 12.8 billion light-years from Earth. Moreover, it could be the brightest in the early universe for quite some time.

Yale postdoctoral associate Fabio Pacucci said, “The detection of this particular source in the faraway universe is a major discovery for a surprising reason. For decades we thought that lensed quasars should be very common in the faraway universe, but this is the first source of this kind that we have found.”

For the discovery, scientists used multiple Hawaii-based observatories in their work, including Gemini Observatory, the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope, United Kingdom Infra-Red Telescope (UKIRT), the W.M. Keck Observatory, and the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS1).

Pacucci said, “This detection gives us a clue about how to find a population of ‘phantom quasars. These sources are difficult to detect, as our observations are misled by the presence of the lensing object, in-between the faraway quasar and the Earth. If they do exist, ‘phantom quasars’ could revolutionize our idea of the most ancient history of the universe.”

The discovery was announced Jan. 9 during a press conference at the 233rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle. The lead investigator is Xiaohui Fan, Regents’ Professor of Astronomy at the University of Arizona’s Steward Observatory.