Scientists just spotted the brightest object in the early universe

Rob Waugh
Contributor
An artist’s illustration of a radio jet spewing out fast-moving material from the newly discovered quasar PSO J352.4034-15.3373, Robin Dienel, courtesy of Carnegie Institution for Science.

Scientists just received an incredibly bright radio signal from the earliest days of the universe – emitted by a quasar which formed in the universe’s first billion years.

The quasar was spotted by a team headed by Carnegie’s Eduardo Bañados – spewing out a jet of extremely fast-moving material.

It could allow scientists to understand what the universe was like when it was young.

Quasars are comprised of enormous black holes accreting matter at the centers of massive galaxies.

This newly discovered quasar’s light has been traveling nearly 13 billion of the universe’s 13.7 billion years to reach us here on Earth.

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This newly discovered quasar, called PSO J352.4034-15.3373, is one of a rare breed that doesn’t just swallow matter into the black hole but also emits a jet of plasma traveling at speeds approaching that of light.

This jet makes it extremely bright in the frequencies detected by radio telescopes.

P352-15 is the first quasar with clear evidence of radio jets seen within the first billion years of the universe’s history.

‘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,’ Bañados said.

‘This is the most-detailed image yet of such a bright galaxy at this great distance,’ Momjian added.

The Big Bang started the universe as a hot soup of extremely energetic particles that were rapidly expanding.

As it expanded, it cooled and coalesced into neutral hydrogen gas, which left the universe dark, without any luminous sources, until gravity condensed matter into the first stars and galaxies.

About 800 million years after the Big Bang, the energy released by these first galaxies caused the neutral hydrogen that was scattered throughout the universe to get excited and lose an electron, or ionize, a state that the gas has remained in since that time.

It’s highly unusual to find radio jet-emitting quasars such as this one from the period just after the universe’s lights came back on.