An artist’s impression of a an active galactic nucleus, or quasar, powered by a supermassive black hole. Image: ESA/Hubble, NASA, M. Kornmesser
Thanks to a chance alignment and the magnification provided by the gravity of an intervening galaxy, the Hubble Space Telescope has spotted the brightest quasar ever seen in the early universe, a galactic nucleus powered by a supermassive black hole several hundred million times the mass of the Sun and 11 trillion times as bright.
Light from the newly discovered quasar, known as J043947.08+163415.7, began its journey when the Universe was about one billion years old.
Despite its apparent brilliance, Hubble only managed to spot it thanks to a dim galaxy between the quasar and Earth that made the background object appear three times as large and 50 times brighter than it would be without the relativistic effects of gravitational lensing. The observed magnified luminosity was 600 trillion times that of the Sun.
The quasar J043947.08+163415.7 as imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope. The quasar is the brightest ever seen in the early universe, but it was only spotted thanks to the magnification provided by the gravity of an intervening galaxy. Image: NASA, ESA, X. Fan (University of ...