SpaceAt the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, a study co-led by researchers make a rare and striking discovery in deep space.

Led by graduate student Yu-Ching Chen of UIUC and astronomy professors Xin Liu and Yue Shen, the team conducted their research using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope in combination with terrestrial and space-based observatories. The astronomers discovered two quasars that are gravitationally bound by their two galaxies. Their study identifies emerging binary quasar populations and rules out other astronomical explanations using a clear method to detect double quasars that are separated by an obscure distance.

The conception of quasars begins with a supermassive black hole consuming neighboring stars. Gas and debris from the stars spin rapidly into cosmic beams called accretion discs. Before reaching their final destination into the black hole, the debris rotates at unfathomable speeds while being pulled by a celestial body that is billions of times more massive than our sun. Friction in the accretion disc creates heat on a level almost difficult to fully appreciate. This results in a glowing disc that shines more brightly than even some of our galaxy’s brightest stars, which is the impressive quasar that these astronomers captured.

Like a needle-in-a-haystack, according to Professor Yue Shen, the search for this double quasar required the combined power of the Hubble’s sensitivity and the university’s leading researchers in their astronomy department. UIUC is committed to continuing their rich history of astronomical achievements inside the classroom by providing students hands-on experience using real data sets and outside campus in research projects led by students and faculty alike. Much of our universe is still unexplored and there is plenty of room for discoveries. UIUC is a pioneering research institution in observational astronomy, theoretical astrophysics, astronomical imagining, and cosmology. Faculty members have access to world-class facilities including the South Pole Telescope and large survey projects like DES. The university sets a high standard for undergraduate studies, which leads students to advance their academic expertise in year-round research as well as occasional collaborations with astronomy professors.

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