Astronomers have spotted what appears to be the brightest known object in the universe, a quasar that looks like an ordinary star through a small telescope.

The quasar, in the constellation Lynx near the Big Dipper, is about 11 billion light-years away. It gives off visible light and infrared emissions, and its brightness in terms of energy output beats the current record by about tenfold.Quasars are extremely powerful objects in the far corners of the universe. They are thought to be powered by supermassive black holes, which generate huge amounts of energy by sucking up nearby matter.

Researchers said the quasar may actually be dimmer than it looks. There's a good chance that a huge galaxy between it and Earth is acting like a lens, concentrating its light and making it look brighter than it truly is.

Nobody knows how much of this might be going on. So it's hard to say whether the quasar is truly the brightest known celestial object, but it's certainly among the brightest, said Geraint Lewis of the University of Washington and the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada.

He and colleagues report the finding in an upcoming issue of the Astrophysics Journal.

Another author, Edward Totten of Keele University in Staffordshire, England, said that even with a lens effect, he believes the quasar is the brightest object.

The question of whether there is a lens effect and how strong it is should be solved this year with images from the Hubble Space Telescope.