NASA is looking forward to the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope later this year. The telescope will observe all manner of space phenomena but will particularly focus on studying quasars. A quasar is a very bright and distant, active supermassive black hole that is millions to billions of times the sun’s mass. Quasars are typically located at the centers of galaxies and feed on material from an accretion disk surrounding it, and unleashes torrents of radiation.
Quasars are among the brightest objects in the universe. The light they produce outshines that of all other stars in the host galaxy combined. NASA also says the jets of material in winds created by the quasar shape the galaxy around it. Shortly after the Webb Space Telescope launches, NASA plans to aim the telescope at six of the most distant and bright quasars known. Data gathered by the telescope we used to study the properties of the quasars and their host galaxies to determine how they are interconnected during the first stages of galactic evolution in the very early universe.
Scientists also plan to use the quasars to examine the gas in the space between galaxies, particularly during a period called cosmic reionization, which ended when the universe was very young. The telescope’s extreme sensitivity to low light and superb angular resolution will be tested to study the phenomena. Scientists note that when the Webb telescope is looking deep into the universe, it’s actually looking back in time. This is because the quasars are so far away from us the light from them began its journey to Earth when the universe was very young, taking billions of years to arrive for us to see.
Researchers note that they’ll be looking at how things were a very long time ago, not as they are today. All the quasars the team will study existed in the very early universe when it was less than 800 million years old, or less than six percent of its current age. The investigation gives the opportunity to study galaxy evolution and supermassive black hole formation and evolution from those very early days of the universe.