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


In this April 25, 1990 photograph provided by NASA, most of the giant Hubble Space Telescope can be seen as it is suspended in space by Discovery's Remote Manipulator System (RMS) following the deployment of part of its solar panels and antennae.

The distant quasar, a series of energy jets powered by supermassive black holes, has the combined brightness of almost 600trillion suns, astronomers say.

Astronomers used data from the Nasa/European Space Agency telescope 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 powerful glow of a quasar is created by a supermassive black hole which is surrounded by an accretion disc. "This discovery demonstrates strongly gravitationally lensed quasars do exist despite the fact we've been looking for over 20 years and not found any others this far back in time". But the telescope needed help to spot it: the gravitational warping of space by a comparatively nearby intervening galaxy greatly amplified and distorted the quasar's light, making it the brightest such object seen in the early Universe.

The data shows not only that the supermassive black hole is accreting matter to itself at an extremely high rate, but also that the quasar may be producing up to 10,000 stars per year, scientists said.

Due to their brightness and distance, quasars provide a unique glimpse into the conditions in the early Universe.

"The reason this one was discovered was - a bit lucky actually - because the quasar is so bright and the lensing galaxy is very faint compared to all the other lensing galaxies we know", lead author and astronomer Xiaohui Fan, of the University of Arizona, told Live Science. If the lensing galaxy in this system were just half a magnitude brighter, researchers may have entirely missed the quasar.

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"We don't expect to find many quasars brighter than this one in the whole observable universe". Both the foreground galaxy and the quasar is spotted by the Hubble SpaceTelescope.

NASA's Hubble Telescope captured the brilliant beacon of light coming from the quasar which is 12.8 billion light-years away.

Less than a billion years after the Big Bang, a supermassive black hole began devouring anything within its gravitational grasp; this triggered a firestorm of star formation around the black hole; a galaxy was being born; a blowtorch of energy blazed across the Universe. Fabian Walter, from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany.

Handout artist's impression showing how J043947.08+163415.7, a very distant quasar powered by a supermassive black hole, may look close up. Energetic objects such as J0439 could help to solve this mystery.

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