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Grad Student Finds Oldest Quasar

April 14, 2000

PRINCETON, N.J. (AP) _ A Princeton University graduate student has discovered what scientists claim is the oldest, most distant object ever seen by a human being.

Astrophysics student Xiaohui Fan found a quasar that is 12 billion light years from Earth.

The discovery gives scientists a better glimpse of what the universe was like in its infancy.

``We’re zooming in to the time when the galaxies were very young and the light first appeared in the universe after the Big Bang,″ Fan said, referring to the explosion generally thought to have resulted in the creation of the universe.

Other scientists were equally excited.

``Because it is so exceptionally luminous, it provides a wonderful opportunity to study the universe when the galaxies that we see today were young,″ said Robert Lupton a Princeton researcher and astronomer with the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, an international team of scientists trying to map out half of the northern sky.

The $80 million, five-year project is expected to collect data on hundreds of millions of galaxies, stars, quasars and other celestial objects.

Because it took 12 billion years for the light from the quasar, an emission of light from matter pouring into a massive black hole at the center of the galaxy, scientists saw the object as it existed when the universe was less than a billion years old. The universe is thought to be about 13 billion years old.

The ``Redshift 5.8 Quasar″ appears as a red speck of dust in the constellation Sextans.

Fan and three other scientists made the discovery in April in Hawaii at the Keck Telescope, the world’s largest, using data collected in March from a telescope at Apache Point, N.M.

It surpassed the previous record-holder for the most distant known celestial object, a galaxy discovered last year by researchers in Hawaii and Cambridge, England.

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