Posted at 10:07 AM ET, 06/30/2011

Quasar found from dawn of time


An artist’s rendering of the most distant quasar released by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) on June 29. (M. Kornmesser - AFP/Getty Images)
A team of European astronomers, looking back toward the dawn of time, says it has detected the brightest and most ancient quasar yet. A quasar is a very bright but very distant galaxy with a mighty black hole at its heart.

The AP reports:

Light from this brilliant, starlike object took nearly 13 billion years to reach Earth, meaning the quasar existed when the universe was only 770 million years old — a kid by cosmic standards. The discovery ranks as the brightest object ever found.
To scientists' surprise, the black hole powering this quasar was 2 billion times more massive than the sun. How it grew so bulky so early in the universe's history is a mystery. Black holes are known to feed on stars, gas and other matter, but their growth was always thought to be slow.

The finding helps astronomers explain aspects of the young universe by illuminating what conditions of the cosmos may have been like following the Big Bang, the explosion believed to have created the universe 13.7 billion years ago.

The new quasar was identified in images from a sky survey taken by the U.K.’s Infrared Telescope, which is located near the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii. The finding was confirmed by other telescopes.

The previous record was a quasar dated to when the universe was 870 million years old.

Chris Willott of the Canadian Astronomy Data Center called ths quasar a “monster” that could upset the theories astronomers hold about black holes. “The existence of this quasar will be giving some theorists sleepless nights,” he said.

By  |  10:07 AM ET, 06/30/2011

 
Read what others are saying
     

    © 2011 The Washington Post Company