Have you ever wanted to travel back in time to get a glimpse at what life was like all those years ago?
Disclaimer: If the answer is no, you need to reassess your life because, let’s face it, what could possibly be cooler than time travel?
And although it might not be time travel exactly, scientists have managed to look at the very beginning of the universe – using a makeshift cosmic telescope.
As reported by the Independent, astronomers were able to get a glimpse of light that was emitted at the beginning of time and was among the first to ever shine bright after the Big Bang.
But the breakthrough wasn’t planned; it happened completely by accident as a beam of light – thrown out by a quasar – passed by a galaxy that happened to bend and magnify the light and thus made it visible to scientists.
For those of you (like me) who missed the science lesson when this was taught, quasars are ‘the brightest objects in the Universe,’ which ‘are thought to be powered by supermassive black holes’. They are thought to have been around in the very first galaxies in the universe.
You can take a look at an artist’s impression of what one would look like below:
The galaxy which the light passed by therefore acted as a huge cosmic telescope, bending the light to allow Nasa-sponsored researchers to see deep into space and time.
Xiaohui Fan of the University of Arizona, who led the study, told the Independent:
If it weren’t for this makeshift cosmic telescope, the quasar’s light would appear about 50 times dimmer.
This discovery demonstrates that strongly gravitationally lensed quasars do exist despite the fact that we’ve been looking for over 20 years and not found any others this far back in time.
Scientists used the Gemini Observatory to take observations of the light and help them to understand where it had come from. They also used data from other observatories.
When we combined the Gemini data with observations from multiple observatories on Maunakea, the Hubble Space Telescope, and other observatories around the world, we were able to paint a complete picture of the quasar and the intervening galaxy.
These observations enabled scientists to view part of an extremely distant quasar, which sent out the beam of light almost as old as the universe itself.
This is the first time a quasar which exists so far back in time has been discovered, meaning scientists were able to glimpse the beginning of time for the first time ever.
Jinyi Yang, another member of the discovery team at the University of Arizona, told the Independent:
This is one of the first sources to shine as the Universe emerged from the cosmic dark ages. Prior to this, no stars, quasars, or galaxies had been formed, until objects like this appeared like candles in the dark.
Astronomers now hope to make even more similar discoveries, potentially enabling them to witness the universe beginning.
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