Clockwise from left, Gemini’s Crossbow, Wolf’s Paw, Microscope Lens and Dragon’s Kite (Photo credit: R. Hurt (IPAC/Caltech)/The GraL Collaboration)

Astronomers at the W. M. Keck Observatory on Maunakea are part of a team that came across a very rare find nestled billions of light years away that could help to quantify the universe. Researchers discovered a dozen “quadruply imaged quasars,” and only 50 “quads” have been found within the past 40 years.

Quasars are extremely luminous objects powered by supermassive black holes that are feasting on material surrounding it. A quadruply imaged quasar happens when the gravity of a massive galaxy in front of it bends and magnifies the light of the quasar behind it, and splits the quasar’s single image into four.

“The quads are gold mines for all sorts of questions. They can help determine the expansion rate of the universe, and help address other mysteries, such as dark matter and quasar ‘central engines,’” said Daniel Stern, lead author of the new study and a research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “They are not just needles in a haystack but Swiss Army knives because they have so many uses.”

The newly-discovered quasar quads, which the team gave nicknames such as Wolf’s Paw and Dragon Kite, will help with future calculations of what’s known as Hubble’s constant, or the rate at which the universe expands.

The findings are published in the Astrophysical Journal with data from several ground- and space-based telescopes, including the European Space Agency’s Gaia mission and NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer.

Read the full story on the W.M. Keck Observatory website.