Mauna Kea telescopes find most distant quasar in universe

By Gregg K. Kakesako

POSTED: 12:21 p.m. HST, Jun 29, 2011


This artist’s conception provided by the European Southern Observatory shows the discovery of the most distant quasar found to date. (AP Photo/European Southern Observatory)

An international team of astronomers using telescopes on Mauna Kea have discovered the most distant and earliest known quasar, a bright, starlike object believed to have formed just after the universe was created. Light from the quasar — created by gas falling into a supermassive black hole — took nearly 13 billion years to reach Earth,  meaning it existed when the universe was only 770 million years old. Until now, the most distant quasar ever seen sent light 870 million years after the Big Bang, the explosion believed to have created the universe 13.7 billion years ago.

The quasar, named ULAS J1120+0641, was discovered in images from the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope Infrared Deep Sky Survey — a new map of the sky at infrared wavelengths.  “It’s like sifting for gold. You’re looking for something shiny,” said lead researcher Daniel Mortlock, an astrophysicist at Imperial College in London.

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