Bright quasar dates back to early universe

Discovery could help scientists better understand how the universe's first galaxies formed.
By Laurel Kornfeld | Dec 02, 2018
The brightest quasar or active galactic nucleus ever detected dates back nearly 13 billion years, meaning it originated in the early universe and could potentially aid scientists in understanding the formation process of the first galaxies.

Quasars are extremely luminous super-massive black holes at the centers of galaxies. These black holes are active, meaning they are devouring large amounts of matter that form an accretion disk spiraling toward their centers. The most luminous, powerful, and remote energy sources in existence, quasars emit as much as one thousand times the energy output of the Milky Way galaxy across the entire electromagnetic spectrum.

A research team led by Eduardo Banadas of the Carnegie Institution for Science discovered the quasar PSO J1352.4034-15.3373 emitting the brightest radio emission ever detected as a result of high-speed jets shooting out of it towards Earth.

His discovery was confirmed by Emmanuel Momjian of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, who, along with his science team, was able to view the jet emitted by the quasar with an unprecedented level of detail.

The researchers found the jets have been traveling for 13 billion years, making this quasar the first known to have been spewing jets within the first billion years of the universe's 13.8-billion-year existence.

Unlike most quasars, this one does more than suck matter into its black hole. It also emits jets of plasma that travel at almost the speed of light. This makes the jets appear extremely bright when viewed with radio telescopes.

Approximately 10 percent of quasars are known to emit strong radio jets.

"There is a dearth of known strong radio emitters from the universe's youth, and this is the brightest radio quasar at that epoch by any order of magnitude," Banados stated.

Following the Big Bang, the universe was dark as it expanded and cooled into neutral hydrogen gas, with few sources of brightness. Approximately 800 million years after the Big Bang, gravity condensed matter into the first galaxies and stars, which released energy, causing the neutral hydrogen to lose an electronic and become ionized, generating light.

"The jet from this quasar could serve as an important calibration tool to help future projects penetrate the dark ages and perhaps reveal how the earliest galaxies came into being," Banados emphasized.

Findings of the study have been published in two separate papers in The Astrophysical Journal.

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