PASADENA, Calif., Sept. 12 (UPI) -- Astronomers have identified 63 new quasars -- the largest number reported in a single scientific study.
Led by Eduardo Bañados, an astronomer at the Carnegie Institution for Science, the survey almost doubles the number of known quasars in the early universe.
All of the newly identified quasars reveal the universe as it was when it was no more than 1 billion years old.
Quasars are like lighthouses, their beams hailing from far away in the ancient universe. Quasars are active supermassive black holes at the center of galaxies, and they are some of the brightest objects in the universe.
"They literally illuminate our knowledge of the early universe," Bañados said in a news release.
Their insatiable consumption of matter -- and the concentration of that matter in the accretion disk -- produces intense X-ray emissions, powerful enough to be seen 13 billion light-years away.
Researchers are hopeful that further analysis of the 63 quasars will offer new insights into the evolution of the early universe, particularly the transition from a dark, black universe to one with light -- a period about which astronomers remain mostly in the dark.
In the wake of the Big Bang, after the matter exploded by the birth of the universe began to cool, light was absent. It wasn't until gravity slowly condensed the plethora of hydrogen atoms that the universe's first sources of light came into existence.
Astronomers believe quasars may have been some of the first sources.
"The formation and evolution of the earliest light sources and structures in the universe is one of the greatest mysteries in astronomy," Bañados said. "Very bright quasars such as the 63 discovered in this study are the best tools for helping us probe the early universe. But until now, conclusive results have been limited by the very small sample size of ancient quasars."
The new survey is scheduled to be published in the Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series.