Today’s edition of the Material World (on BBC Radio 4) discussed a recent discovery of a very very very far away quasar. It means that what we observed actually happened a billion year after big-bang (which is pretty close in terms of cosmological time).
The physicist from Imperial College London discussed the implications of the discovery.
Apparently at the beginning atoms in the universe were first neutral. Then under gravity they started accumulating and as a result ionised (meaning they separating into positively and negatively charged particles). At least that’s what the theory predicts. And the quasar observed today is the first to be observed from when the universe was still made of neutral instead of charged particles. So we’re only starting to observe this period of the universe.
There are plans by NASA or the European Spatial Agency to send a telescope in space to be able to observe further away, which means further back in time. This sounds promising, and maybe one day they’ll be able to observe my home planet too.
Another interesting aspect is that this quasar is very heavy, which is odd given its short date. So it seems our understanding of how particles starting to lump together under gravity after the initial expansion of the universe needs a bit of revising.
While listening, I couldn’t help but wonder if this could be the centre of the universe…
PS: Material World is an awesome science programme on the radio, and it is always very very interesting. Higly recommended.