An extremely distant quasar has been discovered, one that astronomers say emits light from the dawn of time, a new study suggests. Quasars are huge, incredibly bright celestial objects located in the center of galaxies, USA Today reports.
The newly discovered quasar is located extremely far back in time and space, when the very first light emerged from the Big Bang.
“This is one of the first sources to shine as the universe emerged from the cosmic dark ages,” said Jinyi Yang of the University of Arizona, a member of the discovery team. “Prior to this, no stars, quasars, or galaxies had been formed, until objects like this appeared like candles in the dark," Yang said.
Shining with the brilliance of 500 trillion suns, the quasar is fueled by a supermassive black hole at the heart of a young galaxy that's still in the process of forming.
This will be a landmark discovery, scientists say: "We don't expect to find many quasars brighter than that in the whole observable universe," said study lead author Xiaohui Fan of the University of Arizona.
Though the quasar is very far away – 12.8 billion light-years – astronomers can detect it because a galaxy closer to Earth acts as a lens, making the quasar look extra bright. The gravitational field of the closer galaxy warps space itself, bending and amplifying the distant quasar’s light in a process called "gravitational lensing." This boosted its brightness by some 50 times.