Gemini Observatory Identified a Key Fingerprint of an Extremely Distant Quasar

Gemini Observatory Identified a Key Fingerprint of an Extremely Distant Quasar

Gemini Observatory Identified a Key Fingerprint of an Extremely Distant Quasar

The brightest quasar in the history of the universe was observed at a distance of 12.8 billion light-years.

Scientists are now studying light that has been around since the beginning of time. An observation from Gemini Observatory found a distant quasar with the brightest radio emission ever detected. Astronomers were able to see the light due to a galaxy between the quasar and the telescope. The galaxy acted like a gravitational lens and magnified the ancient light. According to the Gemini observations, this quasar was the brightest in the history of the universe. Xiaohui Fan, a Researcher at the University of Arizona, referred to this gravitational lensing by saying,

“If it weren’t for this makeshift cosmic telescope, the quasar’s light would appear about 50 times dimmer. This discovery demonstrates that strongly gravitationally lensed quasars do exist despite the fact that we’ve been looking for over 20 years and not found any others this far back in time.”

What is a Quasar?

A quasar is a luminous, active galactic nucleus. Most large galaxies have a massive black hole at the center. In case of a quasar, the black hole is surrounded by a gas disk. As the gas is pulled towards the black hole, electromagnetic radiation is released. This radiation can be picked up on the electromagnetic spectrum. Powerful quasars are extremely luminescent, much more luminescent than our Milky Way. The image from the Hubble Space Telescope shows the quasar as it looked 12.8 billion years ago. That puts it a mere 1 billion years after the Big Bang. The quasar appears to be red probably because the blue light got absorbed by diffused gas in space.

The Discovery

The Gemini North telescope in Hawaii detected something in the infrared spectrum of light. The telescope used Gemini Near-InfraRed Spectrograph (GNIRS) to view and analyze it. Feige Wang of the University of California talked about that and said,

“When we combined the Gemini data with observations from multiple observatories on Maunakea, the Hubble Space Telescope, and other observatories around the world, we were able to paint a complete picture of the quasar and the intervening galaxy.”

The image developed showed that the quasar was located extremely far back in time and space. Scientists found that it was as far back as Epoch of Reionization, the time when light emerged for the first time after the Big Bang. The quasar is around 12.8 billion light-years away while a 6-billion light-years-away galaxy warps the light using its gravity. The light bends as if passing through a lens. The warping magnifies the image by a factor of 50.

Gemini’s telescope was not the only one observing this distant quasar. Ground-based telescopes, including the MMT, Keck, LBT, and JCMT were used to observe the object in Infrared, Optical, and sub-millimeter wavelengths. This was done to measure the distance and the characteristics of the quasar, precisely. Jinyi Yang, an Astronomer from the University of Arizona acknowledged the importance of this finding in the following words:

“This is one of the first sources to shine as the universe emerged from the cosmic dark ages. Prior to this, no stars, quasars, or galaxies had been formed, until objects like this appeared like candles in the dark.”

Further Investigations of the Quasar

The follow-up observations were even more interesting. The spectroscopic analysis at Multi-Mirror Telescope (MMT) in Arizona, detected the essential magnesium fingerprint. The Gemini North and Keck I telescopes in Hawaii confirmed the findings of MMT. This fingerprint was the key to measure the distance. On the downside, the galactic nucleus and the magnifying galaxy are so close to each other that it’s impossible to separate them using the telescopes on the ground. The Earth’s atmosphere is also partially responsible for blurring the images. The only reason we can separate these entities is the Hubble Space Telescope, which took extremely sharp images of these celestial objects.

Future Observations

Astronomers plan to use the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) and the future James Webb Telescope to look within 150 light years of the black hole. Scientists also plan to detect the influence of gravity on gas and star formation. The finding will change the way astronomers looked at lensed quasars. This may lead to a rapid increase in the discoveries of these objects in the near future. Such discoveries will continue to teach us about the chemical environment and characteristics of these ancient black holes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *