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Four Quasars in One Nebula: Scientists Find an Incredible Astronomical First

The universe is known for serving up exotic and spectacular phenomena, but even with that in mind, quasars seem too bizarre to be real. These distant objects are powered by supermassive black holes from the very early universe, and they emit massive amounts of light. In fact, one quasar can be 100 times brighter than the entire Milky Way galaxy.

Now, a team led by cosmologist Joseph Hennawi has discovered four of these objects—a quasar quartet—huddled together in a nebula 10 billion light years away. This is the first time such a large gaggle of quasars has ever been imaged, and according to Hennawi team, the odds of finding such an event are 10 million to one.

Why such low odds? Because while quasars are ultra-luminous, they are also very rare. Quasars can be viewed as an infant life stage for young galaxies, which is why astronomers usually find them in the early universe. They are formed when gas, dust, and other matter begins to accrete around a supermassive black hole, falling inwards and reacting violently with the hole’s disk.