In the early universe, a massive nebula strikes the prize when it comes to unique, bright objects known as quasars, having four within close distance to each other. The first quasar quartet is located within a cloud of cool gas that could be hinting to the objects’ strange proximity. As published online in the Journal Science on May 14.
The center of every galaxy has a gigantic black hole which is millions of times the size of the sun. Materials swirls around the edge of the black hole as it moves near the speed of light, producing a huge mount of energy before it is annihilated. If the supply is enough, it enters the quasar phase of its progress, surpassing its parent galaxy to become one of the brightest objects in the universe.
Hennawi stated that although quasars’ lives are very short, a quasar shine somewhere between 10 million to 100 million years in the 10-billion-year lifespan of a galaxy. This makes the objects extremely rare and hard to find. Discovering four so close together came as something of a shock.
Hennawi and his coworkers were studying 29 quasars in search of a nebula of cool hydrogen gas, known as Lyman-α (Lyman-alpha) nebulae, encircling them. The bright light of a quasar can light the gas around it, helping astronomers to better understand the properties of the gas.
Selecting one likely candidate, the team trained a Keck telescope in Hawaii on the object, and found one of the largest and brightest Lyman-α nebulae yet discovered. In the cloud of gas, the researchers recognized not one, but four tightly packed quasars all lying at a close proximity together.
This, however, is the first known quadruple-quasar system.