Study discovers 63 ancient quasars

Quasars are thought to be some of the first light sources to have formed in the Universe, but finding ancient specimens to study is a tricky task. A team of astronomers has found a batch of specimens that nearly doubles the amount of ancient quasars that we know of.

Artist’s conception of a distant quasar.
Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

A search for quasars has revealed 63 new specimens that existed when the Universe was only a billion years old, nearly doubling the amount of known ancient quasars.

The find is the largest amount of ancient - and therefore distant - quasars to be presented in a single study.

Quasars are supermassive black holes that shine incredibly bright as they consume cosmic matter at a fierce rate. In fact, they are thought to have been some of the first light sources to form. But because the population of known ancient quasars is relatively low, astronomers do not have much opportunity to study them.

It is hoped that this latest find will provide new information about the nature of quasars, but also about the Universe as it existed during the first billion years after the Big Bang.

“The formation and evolution of the earliest light sources and structures in the Universe is one of the greatest mysteries in astronomy,” says Eduardo Bañados of the Carnegie Institution for Science, who led the study. “Very bright quasars such as the 63 discovered in this study are the best tools for helping us probe the early Universe. But until now, conclusive results have been limited by the very small sample size of ancient quasars.”


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