Superbright quasar could shed light on universe's youth

A newfound quasar is blasting out the brightest radio emissions ever observed in the early universe, new research reports.

Quasars, the brightest objects in the cosmos, are comprised of giant black holes gobbling up matter at the hearts of massive galaxies. Quasars emit mostly radio waves, which have the longest wavelengths in the electromagnetic spectrum, much longer than those of visible light.

The newly discovered quasar, called PSO J352.4034-15.3373, lies nearly 13 billion light-years from Earth — meaning its radio emissions have zoomed through space for about 13 billion years before reaching our planet.

PSO J352.4034-15.3373 therefore provides a look at the early days of the universe, which came into being with the Big Bang 13.82 billion years ago. And looks of this kind are pretty rare, the quasar's discoverers said.

"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 an order of magnitude,"Eduardo Bañados, of the Carnegie Institution of Science in Washington, D.C., said in a statement.

Bañados led the team that found PSO J352.4034-15.3373. That initial discovery was followed up by Emmanuel Momjian of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, whose observations allowed astronomers to characterize the quasar — and to spot a jet of superfast plasma spewing from the exotic object.

These jets, whose material moves at nearly the speed of light, could help astronomers better understand the long-ago era when the universe's first stars formed and began clumping together, researchers said.

"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," Bañados said in the statement.

This discovery is detailed in two papers published online today (July 9) in The Astrophysical Journal. 

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