Early Quasar Is Brightest Object Ever Found in the Universe

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A team of astronomers have discovered ULAS J1120+0641, a quasar that existed when the universe was just 770 million years old

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It's long gone by now, but scientists have only just discovered ULAS J1120+0641, a quasar that has taken the title as the brightest object ever found in the universe -- because it took nearly 13 billion years for its light to reach the Earth. That means that this quasar, this ball of light powered by a black hole about two billion times more massive than our own sun, existed back when the universe was just 770 million years old.

"Since quasars are so luminous, they guide astronomers studying the conditions of the cosmos following the Big Bang, the explosion believed to have created the universe 13.7 billion years ago," the Associated Press explained. "Researchers are constantly trying to outdo one another in their quest to see the universe as an infant. The deeper they peer into space, the further back in time they are looking."

This latest discovery, first reported in Thursday's issue of Nature, is credited to lead researcher Daniel Mortlock and his team working at the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope on top of Mauna Kea, Hawaii. "It's like sifting for gold," Mortlock, an astrophysicist at London's Imperial College, told the AP. "You're looking for something shiny."

ULAS J1120+0641 took the brightest object title from another quasar that wasn't formed until about 100 million years later, when the universe was 870 million years old. But the quest continues. Astronomers will continue to improve upon existing technology until they can peer deeper into space. After all, they still have about 770 million years to account for.

Image: Associated Press.

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Nicholas Jackson is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

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