THe closest and brightest of the more than 600 quasars found in the universe has been discovered along the equator of the Milky Way galaxy about 800 million light years from Earth.
The quasar, shorthand for quasi-stellar object, has been given the mundane "name" 0241, which refers to its position in the sky above the horizon. Besides being closer and brighter than any other quasar, this one is flooding the sky with x-rays - one of three quasars found in recent months to be radiating X-ray energy.
"We know that quasars emit radio waves and optical light and now we know they radiate X-rays," said Dr. Hale Bradt of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, whose Small Astronomy Satellite found the newest quasar. "The amount of power coming out of these tiny regions is comparable to the power radiating out of an entire galaxy."
What scientists can't identify is the energy source in the quasars. So mysterious is this piece of the puzzle that astronomers call the quasar energy engine the "crazy infernal machine."
The quasar 0241 was found. Bradt said, "buried in the mud" of numerous other stars at the edge of the Milky Way along the galactic plane of the galaxy. So hard was it to distinguish from the stars in the Milky Way that for a while astronomers thought the quasar was in the Milky Way.
Radio telescope aimed at the quasar juickly determined that 0241 was moving away from the Milky Way at almost one-twentieth the speed of light, meaning it couldn't be a part of the galaxy. Together with its energy output and star-like image not fuzzy, like a galaxy this told astronomers it was a quasar.
What does it mean? First, that quasars are more numerous than astronomers thought, the present total of 633 will surely grow as more X-ray instruments scan the sky. Second, that quasar quickly determined that 0241 was verse not just at the observable edge 8 to 14 billion light years away.