The technique, combined with the expected discovery of millions more far-away quasars over the next decade,
could yield an unprecedented look back to a time shortly after the Big Bang, when the universe was a
fraction the size it is today.
Researchers found the key while analyzing the visible light from a small group of quasars. Patterns of light variation
over time were consistent from one quasar to another when corrected for the quasar's redshift.
This redshift occurs because an expanding universe carries the quasars away from us,
thus making the light from them appear redder (hence the term), and also making the time variations appear to occur more slowly.
Turning this around, by measuring the rate at which a quasar's light appears to vary and comparing this rate
to the standard rate at which quasars sampled actually vary, the researchers were able to infer the redshift
of the quasar.
Knowing the quasar redshift enables the scientists to calculate the relative size of the universe when the light
was emitted, compared to today.
"It appears we may have a useful tool for mapping out the expansion history of the universe," said
Glenn Starkman, a physics professor at Case Western Reserve and an author of the study, published this summer
in Physical Review Letters.
"If we could measure the redshifts of millions of quasars, we could use them to map the structures in the universe out
to a large redshift." The larger the redshift, the farther and older the light source.
Artist impression of a quasar
The group plans to seek larger samples of quasars, to confirm the patterns are consistent and can be used to
calculate their redshifts everywhere across the universe.
The scientists graphed the amount of light from 14 quasars recorded by the Massive Compact Halo Objects project,
which sought evidence of dark matter in and around the Milky Way. Light from each quasar was measured repeatedly
over hundreds of days.
Graphing revealed phases during which the amount of light would either increase or decrease in a linear fashion
over an extended period of time.
Although other properties varied, the rate at which the measurable light changed was nearly identical among all 14
quasars, once scientists corrected for the effects of the universe's expansion.
"It's as if there was a dimmer switch on them with someone turning it to the left then the right," Starkman said.
"The overall trend was surprisingly consistent."
This consistency of patterns enabled the scientists to accurately calculate the cosmological redshift of one
quasar from another. The researchers tested this capability in two ways.
They fit segments of the light curves, that is, the measured light over time, to straight lines.
The slopes of the lines were consistent and appeared to be directly related to the quasars' redshifts.
By comparing corresponding slopes of 13 quasars with a known redshift value to the slopes of one other quasar,
the researchers could calculate the redshift of the lone quasar within two percentage points.
In a second approach, the researchers took large sections of the light curves of two quasars and concentrated on
the segments that matched most closely. By varying the ratio of the redshifts of the two quasars to try to get the
best possible match of the two light curves, they were able to determine the ratio of the quasars' redshifts
to within 1.5 percentage points.
Astronomers have used the bright light of supernovae with redshifts up to about 1.7 to measure the accelerating
expansion of the universe. A star with a redshift of 1.7 would have been emitting that light when the universe
was 2.7 times smaller than today.
Quasars are older and farther away and have been measured with redshifts of up to 7.1, which means they emitted
the light we are seeing when the universe was as small as one-eighth the size it is today.
If this method of determining quasar redshifts proves applicable to higher redshift quasars, scientists could
have millions of markers to trace the growth and evolution of structure and the expansion of the universe out
to large distances and early times.
"This could help us learn about how gravity has assembled structure in the universe." Starkman said. "And,
the rate of structure growth can help us determine whether dark energy or modified laws of gravity drive the
accelerated expansion of the universe."
Intense Blue Lightning On Saturn Visible From Space In Broad Daylight!
To see a thunderstorm from space on another planet is not an event that you will experience often, which is the reason why these images,
taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft are truly impressive.
Photographed from a distance of over two million miles, Cassini captured the largest storm seen up-close at the planet, with
bluish spots in the middle of swirling clouds.
Physicists Challenge Validity Of Big Bang Theory
We all know that the Big Bang theory is an effort to explain what happened at the very beginning of our universe.
However, Australian team of theoretical physicists at the University of Melbourne and RMIT University say that it's time to change our understanding of this process.
Space-Time Crystal Computer That Can Outlive Even The Universe Itself!
It may seem strange to think something can survive even the death of the Universe, but that could actually be possible as a result of the laws of quantum physics.
Scientists are now suggesting a new blueprint for a device, known as a time crystal, that can theoretically continue to function as a
Mysterious X-Rays From Jupiter Near The Poles
Although there had been prior detections of X-rays from Jupiter with other X-ray telescopes, no one expected that the sources of the
X-rays would be located so near the poles.
The X-rays are thought to be produced by energetic oxygen and sulfur ions that are trapped in Jupiter's magnetic field and crash into its atmosphere.