Scientists have spotted the brightest gravitationally lensed quasar ever seen in the universe. The brightness of the quasar is equivalent to about 600 trillion Suns. It is powered by a supermassive black hole, which is several hundred million times more massive than our Sun.
Quasars are the exceptionally bright nuclei of active galaxies. The intense glow of a quasar is produced by a supermassive black hole, which is surrounded by an accretion disc. As the gas in the disk is consumed by the black hole, an incredible amount of energy is released that can be observed over all wavelengths.
The newly discovered quasar, named J043947.08+163415.7, was spotted with the power of gravitational lensing, which amplified its brightness by a factor of 50.
Gravitational lensing refers to an astronomical effect in which a galaxy closer to Earth acts as a lens and amplifies the brightness of the quasar. It happens as the gravitational field of the nearby galaxy warps space itself, bending and boosting the light from the distant quasar.
"We don't expect to find many quasars brighter than that in the whole observable universe," said Xiaohui Fan, Regents' Professor of Astronomy at the University of Arizona's Steward Observatory, and the lead researcher of the study.
The quasar is located about 12.8 billion light-years away from Earth, which means the light from the quasar spotted by astronomers had actually originated when the universe was less than one billion years old. That was a transitional period, called re-ionisation, in the evolution of universe, where light from quasars and young galaxies reheated the obscuring hydrogen that had cooled off after the Big Bang.
The lensed quasar is bright in visible, infrared as well as submillimetre wavelengths. This is because of the hot dust, which is heated by the rapid star formation in the galaxy hosting the quasar. The team estimates that up to 10,000 stars are created in a single year in this galaxy.
Astronomers also believe the record created by this super-bright quasar of being the brightest lensed quasar in the early universe could be held for some time.
The findings of the study were announced at the 233rd Meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle. The results are also published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
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