Scientists have received new radio signals from the furthest reaches of space ever recorded. The radio emissions from a massively powerful quasar traveled 13 billion light years to Earth, where they were discovered by a team of scientists. Astronomers refer to the newly discovered quasar as P172+18 and believe they are observing the object as it was when the universe was just 780 million years old, which is a massive discovery. Only 13.8 billion years have passed since the Big Bang.
The distant radio signals were first discovered by a team co-led by Eduardo Bañados, astronomer at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany, and Chiara Mazzucchelli, from the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Chile. The two have been studying distant radio signals from the edge of space and time for years now. "It was an exciting night," recalled Bañados when speaking about their latest quasar discovery. "We were extremely happy. Minutes after we got the data from the telescope we knew we had made an important discovery: The first human beings recognizing this object as a quasar and the most distant source of strong radio emission known so far."
Finding distant radio signals like the ones P172+18 are emitting is extremely rare. "Finding quasars at these early epochs is already like finding a needle in a haystack," Eduardo Bañados admits. "But only 10% of quasars show strong radio emission so those objects are even rarer." Quasars are "extremely bright celestial objects powered by supermassive black holes that lie in the center of some galaxies." Sometimes they take over the galaxies that contain them, due to their immense power.
Chiara Mazzucchelli says, "I find it very exciting to discover 'new' black holes for the first time, and to provide one more building block to understand the primordial Universe, where we come from, and ultimately ourselves." Quasars like P172+18 shoot out powerful jets, which are "strong sources of radio-wavelength emissions." Eduardo Bañados says, "We are now on the hunt of more similar objects. This is a very 'normal' radio-loud quasar (except that it's very distant) so we think there should be more out there, even at larger cosmological distances."
Astronomers are still trying to figure out the mysteries of massive quasars. "In the meantime we are also trying to understand why some quasars show strong radio emission while others do not, and their connection to CMB/X-ray emission," Eduardo Bañados says. Scientists are still trying to figure out how something like a black hole, which takes a considerable amount of time to form, existed at the beginning of our universe's formation. For now, most scientists believe that the black holes were able to quickly devour material in order to grow and expand exponentially, though the newly discovered radio signals from P172+18 will provide a lot of new information about them. We could soon learn a lot more about how the universe formed and how it's currently expanding. Space.com was one of the first outlets to report on the rare, distant radio signals of P172+18.