Scientists find brightest and fastest-growing quasar

Credit: ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2/Dark Energy Survey

Astronomers using a powerful telescope have made an extraordinary discovery in the cosmos: a quasar that shines brighter than any other known object in the universe.

Quasars are incredibly bright centers of distant galaxies, powered by supermassive black holes at their heart.

These black holes are not just ordinary ones; they are colossal, with the one in this discovery growing at a rate of one sun per day, making it the fastest-growing black hole observed so far.

The team, led by Christian Wolf from the Australian National University, found this quasar, named J0529-4351. It’s located so far away that the light we see from it now actually left it over 12 billion years ago.

This quasar is not only remarkable for its brightness but also for the sheer scale of its power source. The black hole at its center has a mass of 17 billion suns and the energy it releases makes J0529-4351 over 500 trillion times more luminous than our sun.

The process fueling this immense brightness involves matter spiraling into the black hole, forming a disk around it that emits vast amounts of light.

This particular quasar has an accretion disk that spans seven light-years across, which is about 15,000 times the distance from the sun to Neptune, possibly making it the largest of its kind in the universe.

What makes this discovery even more surprising is that this quasar had been hiding in plain sight. Despite being part of the sky images taken as far back as 1980, it was only recently identified as a quasar.

This delay in discovery highlights the challenges astronomers face when classifying celestial objects. The datasets from sky surveys are so massive that researchers often rely on machine-learning models to help sift through the data.

However, these models are trained on known objects, which can sometimes lead to misclassification of extraordinary new finds like J0529-4351.

The identification of this quasar as a significant discovery was only made possible with observations from the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile, using an instrument called the X-shooter spectrograph.

This advanced technology provided the detailed measurements needed to understand the quasar’s properties better.

This discovery is not just a testament to the power of modern telescopes and the importance of observational astronomy; it’s also a gateway to understanding the early universe.

Supermassive black holes and their quasars can tell us much about the formation and evolution of galaxies.

Moreover, the chase for these celestial giants is driven by a pure sense of discovery, as Christian Wolf puts it, a chance to explore the universe with the same wonder as a child on a treasure hunt.

With the future prospects of even more powerful telescopes, like the European Southern Observatory’s Extremely Large Telescope currently under construction, astronomers will be even better equipped to uncover the secrets of distant quasars and black holes, shedding light on the darkest corners of our universe.

The research findings can be found in Nature Astronomy.

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