Astronomical instrument hunts for ancient metal

November 30, 2020

Researchers created a new astronomical instrument that has successfully aided in estimating the abundance of metals in the early universe. The WINERED instrument allows for better observations of astronomical bodies like quasars in the early universe, billions of years ago. Researchers hope this deeper level of exploration could help answer questions about the origins not only of metals in the universe but also of the stars themselves.

Iron is one of the most important elements for life as we know it, and for the technology, both primitive and modern, that has shaped human history. But details of the exact origin of iron and other important metals such as magnesium remain elusive. Exploration of this is important in the field of astronomy as it also connected to the origins of the first stars that would have begun to shine several hundred million years after the Big Bang.

Project Research Associate Hiroaki Sameshima from the Institute of Astronomy at the University of Tokyo and his team decided a new instrument was needed to study these matters. Due to limited instrumentation, previous observations to collect data for the study of metals' origins mainly looked at old stars nearby. But this only gave astronomers information about our own unique galaxy. A new instrument with enhanced sensitivity to near-infrared light could push the boundary and open up observations of distant quasars, ferociously energetic ancient galactic cores that emitted light when the universe was only 2.4 billion years old.

"By mounting the WINERED instrument on a large telescope, we can see further back in time as we can observe bodies more distant, or more ancient, than those from previous studies. We can now see details of quasars over 10 billion years old," said Sameshima. "WINERED is a special kind of spectrograph, which can read the chemical signatures present in the light from distant bodies. It revealed to us the fingerprints of iron and magnesium in the light from these quasars, and this allowed us to calculate the abundance of these elements when the universe was much younger than previous studies allowed."

Now that the researchers have established a new method to directly examine the abundance of metals in the early universe, the challenge becomes one of refining the technique and broadening its scope to collect more data. With improved data, astronomers can build on this study and create theories to explain the origins of metals including the iron in your blood.
Journal article

Hiroaki Sameshima, Yuzuru Yoshii, Noriyuki Matsunaga, Naoto Kobayashi, Yuji Ikeda, Sohei Kondo, Satoshi Hamano, Misaki Mizumoto, Akira Arai, Chikako Yasui, Kei Fukue, Hideyo Kawakita, Shogo Otsubo, Giuseppe Bono and Ivo Saviane. Mg II and Fe II Fluxes of Luminous Quasars at z ~ 2.7 and Evaluation of the Baldwin Effect in the Flux-to-abundance Conversion Method for Quasars. The Astrophysical Journal.


The Japan Society for the Promotion of Science KAKENHI (grant numbers: 19K0397, 16684001, 20340042, 21840052). The MEXT Supported Program for the Strategic Research Foundation at Private Universities (grant numbers: S081061, S1411028). Hayakawa Satio Funds in the Astronomical Society of Japan.

Useful links

Institute of Astronomy -
La Silla Observatory -
Graduate School of Science -

Research contact

Hiroaki Sameshima
Institute of Astronomy, Graduate School of Science, The University of Tokyo,
2-21-1 Osawa, Mitaka, Tokyo 181-0015, JAPAN
Tel: +81(0)-422-34-5021

Press Contact

Mr. Rohan Mehra
Division for Strategic Public Relations, The University of Tokyo
7-3-1 Hongo, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-8654, JAPAN

About the University of Tokyo

The University of Tokyo is Japan's leading university and one of the world's top research universities. The vast research output of some 6,000 researchers is published in the world's top journals across the arts and sciences. Our vibrant student body of around 15,000 undergraduate and 15,000 graduate students includes over 4,000 international students. Find out more at or follow us on Twitter at @UTokyo_News_en.

University of Tokyo

Related Quasars Articles from Brightsurf:

Australian research shows NASA's James Webb telescopes will reveal hidden galaxies
Simulations show it's possible to distinguish host galaxy from quasars, although still challenging due to the galaxy's small size on the sky.

Rare encounters between cosmic heavyweights
Astronomers using Maunakea Observatories - Subaru Telescope, W. M. Keck Observatory, and Gemini Observatory - have discovered three pairs of merging galaxies.

Cosmic quasars embrace 1970s fashion trend
Researchers have studied more than 300 quasars -- spinning black holes that produce beams of plasma.

Astrophysicists wear 3D glasses to watch quasars
A team of researchers has shown a way to determine the origins and nature of quasar light by its polarization.

Space dragons: Researchers observe energy consumption in quasars
Researchers, for the first time, have observed the accelerated rate at which eight quasars consume interstellar fuel to feed their black holes.

Astronomers reveal true colors of evolving galactic beasts
Astronomers have identified a rare moment in the life of some of the universe's most energetic objects.

Fast and furious: detection of powerful winds driven by a supermassive black hole
This is the first publication based entirely on data obtained with EMIR, an instrument developed in the Instituto de AstrofĂ­sica de Canarias (IAC) which analyses the infrared light gathered by the Gran Telescopio Canarias (GTC) from the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory (GarafĂ­a, La Palma).

Astronomers find quasars are not nailed to the sky
Until recently, quasars were thought to have essentially fixed positions in the sky.

Astronomers discover 83 supermassive black holes in the early universe
Astronomers from Japan, Taiwan and Princeton University have discovered 83 quasars powered by supermassive black holes that were formed when the universe was only 5 percent of its current age.

Seeing double could help resolve dispute about how fast the universe is expanding
How fast the universe is expanding has been puzzling astronomers for almost a century.

Read More: Quasars News and Quasars Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to