Astronomers Discover Brightest Quasar in Early Universe | Astronomy

Christopher Davidson
January 13, 2019

Hubble is the first major optical telescope to be placed in the space, and it helps astronomers learn and study more about the distant objects in the universe.

Hubble Space Telescope's camera eye, the Wide Field Camera 3, temporarily shuts down because of a hardware problem.

Lead investigator Xiaohui Fan, from the University of Arizona, said in a news release: "We don't expect to find many quasars brighter than that in the whole observable universe".

Quasars are the bright cores found in some galaxies, powered by supermassive black holes. It can take images in visible light, ultraviolet, and near infrared.

The worldwide research team found the quasar's exceptional brightness to be caused by gravitational lensing, a phenomenon by which the gravity of objects closer to Earth acts as a magnifying glass to observe objects much farther away in space.

The newly discovered ancient quasar, catalogued as J043947.08+163415.7, is so old that the light being received from it started its journey when the universe was only about a billion years old.

Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 instrument as seen on the ground before its launch in 2009.

Even though you might think it would be impossible to miss, the Hubble Space Telescope was only able to spot it thanks to the recently harnessed ability to observe gravitational lensing.

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Tom Brown, the mission head at Hubble's contractor Space Telescope Science Institute, said that Hubble has three other active cameras: the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS), the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS), and the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS).

"Eventually electronics break", said Brown.

Brown said he is confident the issue will be resolved in the next week or two.

"Without this high level of magnification, it would make it impossible for us to see the galaxy", said team member Feige Wang of the University of California, Santa Barbara. "But we are still figuring out what the right path forward is".

However, bringing the the camera back online will require some troubleshooting, an effort that could be complicated by the ongoing government shutdown. Hubble continues its operations using the other tools, while the NASA's researchers are investigating the so-called "anomaly" that caused the main camera to stop working.

The planet, named HD 21749b, orbits a bright, nearby dwarf star about 53 light years away, in the constellation Reticulum, and appears to have the longest orbital period of the three planets so far identified by TESS.

At this point, it's just a question of when Hubble will finally fail for good, and how much science we can get out of it before that happens.

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