Artist’s impression of a quasar (CREDIT: NOIRLab/NSF/AURA/J. da Silva)

LONDON — Astronomers have captured jets of light, each of which is 100,000 billion times brighter than the Sun. These jets are emanating from a quasar, which are among the most powerful objects in the universe. Astronomers say the brilliant beams originate from the center of a galaxy that is 9.6 billion light years away. This means that we are seeing them as they were 9.6 billion years ago.

A team working with the Royal Astronomical Society reports that they were produced when clouds of gas fell into a supermassive black hole. The quasar, designated J1144, is closer to Earth than other light sources of the same luminosity. Its closeness allows us to gain insight into the black hole and its surrounding environment.

From our perspective, the galaxy is located between the constellations of Centaurus and Hydra. Astronomical observations have shown some gas being ejected from the galaxy in the form of extremely powerful winds. These winds inject large amounts of energy into the galaxy.

“We were very surprised that no prior X-ray observatory has ever observed this source despite its extreme power,” says lead author Dr. Elias Kammoun, of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, in a media release.

XMM-Newton/EPIC-pn observation of quasar J1144
XMM-Newton/EPIC-pn observation of the quasar SMSS J114447.77-430859.3. ESA/XMM-Newton/Dr Elias Kammoun License type Attribution (CC BY 3.0)

Dr. Kammoun and his team used data from space-based telescopes to measure the temperature of the X-rays emitted from the quasar. They determined that the temperature was approximately 350 million Kelvin, which is more than 60,000 times hotter than the surface of the Sun.

The black hole at the center of the quasar has a mass that is about 10 billion times the mass of our home star. Moreover, it is increasing in size at a rate of 100 solar masses per year.

“Similar quasars are usually found at much larger distances, so they appear much fainter, and we see them as they were when the Universe was only 2-3 billion years old. J1144 is a very rare source as it is so luminous and much closer to Earth (although still at a huge distance!), giving us a unique glimpse of what such powerful quasars look like,” Dr. Kammoun elaborates.

The study, published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, enhances our understanding of the inner workings of quasars. These objects outshine even the hottest burning stars and emit vast amounts of electromagnetic radiation that is observable across radio, infrared, visible, ultraviolet, and X-ray wavelengths. J1144 was first observed in visible wavelengths in 2022 by the SkyMapper Southern Survey (SMSS).

Interestingly, the X-ray light from J1144 varied on a timescale of a few days. This is uncommon among quasars housing black holes as large as the one found in J1144, as their typical timescales of variability usually span months or even years.

“A new monitoring campaign of this source will start in June this year, which may reveal more surprises from this unique source,” concludes the study’s author.

South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.

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1 Comment

  1. D C M says:

    Well don’t look at it!