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Reverse cosmic lens advances quasar studies

Astronomers using Keck Observatory have identified the first known quasar acting as a gravitational lens that magnifies an even more distant galaxy. The discovery may provide astronomers with a new technique to study quasars.
Quasars are extraordinarily luminous and energetic objects that can be a thousand times brighter than ordinary galaxies, such as the Milky Way. They are thought to be powered by supermassive black holes that lie at the core of distant galaxies. Because quasars are so luminous and emit nearly all their light from the very innermost regions of their host galaxy, astronomers gather little information on the host galaxy itself.

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Astronomers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland have discovered the first known case of a distant galaxy being magnified by a quasar acting as a gravitational lens. The discovery, based in part on observations done at the W. M. Keck Observatory on Hawaii's Mauna Kea, is being published July 16 in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.
Quasars, which are extraordinary luminous objects in the distant universe, are thought to be powered by supermassive black holes in the cores of galaxies. A single quasar could be a thousand times brighter than an entire galaxy of a hundred billion stars, which makes studies of their host galaxies exceedingly difficult. The significance of the discovery, the researchers say, is that it provides a novel way to understand these host galaxies.

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