Largest-ever map of universe’s active supermassive black holes released | Science & Technology

Astronomers have charted the largest-ever volume of the universe with a new map of active supermassive black holes living at the centers of galaxies. Called quasars, the gas-gobbling black holes are, ironically, some of the universe’s brightest objects.

The new map logs the location of about 1.3 million quasars in space and time, the furthest of which shone bright when the universe was only 1.5 billion years old. (For comparison, the universe is now 13.7 billion years old.)

“This quasar catalog is different from all previous catalogs in that it gives us a three-dimensional map of the largest-ever volume of the universe,” says map co-creator David Hogg, a senior research scientist at the Flatiron Institute’s Center for Computational Astrophysics in New York City and a professor of physics and data science at New York University. “It isn’t the catalog with the most quasars, and it isn’t the catalog with the best-quality measurements of quasars, but it is the catalog with the largest total volume of the universe mapped.”

Hogg and his colleagues present the map in a paper published March 18 in The Astrophysical Journal. The paper’s lead author, Kate Storey-Fisher, is a postdoctoral researcher at the Donostia International Physics Center in Spain.

The scientists built the new map using data from the European Space Agency’s Gaia space telescope. While Gaia’s main objective is to map the stars in our galaxy, it also inadvertently spots objects outside the Milky Way, such as quasars and other galaxies, as it scans the sky.

“We were able to make measurements of how matter clusters together in the early universe that are as precise as some of those from major international survey projects — which is quite remarkable given that we got our data as a ‘bonus’ from the Milky Way-focused Gaia project,” Storey-Fisher says.

Quasars are powered by supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies and can be hundreds of times as bright as an entire galaxy. As the black hole’s…

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