ScienceShot: Distant Quasar Is Early Universe's Brightest Object

29 June 2011 1:00 pm

Gemini Observatory

The light from this cosmic beacon took 12.9 billion years to reach Earth, but the sight was worth the wait. Astronomers say it is the most distant quasar, a massive black hole surrounded by luminous gas, that they have ever seen as well as the brightest object to be sighted in the early universe. Its distance means astronomers are seeing it blazing away at a time when the universe was merely 770 million years old, a team reports online today in Nature. The quasar's brilliance is powered by a monstrous black hole at its center that's 2 billion times more massive than the sun. The energy radiating from it would have contributed to the last phase of reionization of the early universe, the process that helped clear away the hydrogen fog shrouding the infant cosmos. More distant objects have been spotted in recent years, such as a gamma ray burst and a galaxy more than 13 billion light-years away, but this quasar is hundreds of times more luminous.

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