NASA’s Chandra Observatory recently spotted a huge jet racing away from a supermassive black hole in the old universe. If confirmed by further studies, it could be the most distant object of its kind ever seen by astronomers.
Located 12.7 billion light years from Earth, this supermassive black hole, PSO J352.4034-15.3373 (or PJ352-15) could help explain how these objects formed at the start of the Universe. This ultra-dense body sits at the center of a young galaxy, forming a quasar.
About a billion times more massive than the Sun, the PJ352–15 is one of the most powerful quasars still seen in the first billion years after the Big Bang. Astronomers aren’t sure how supermassive black holes could grow so quickly in the early Universe, and PJ352-15 might help answer the question.
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Understand the seriousness of the situation
In the video above, take a look at the old quasar PJ352-15. (Video credit: Chandra X-ray Observatory).
Despite their popular image, black holes do not attract matter directly into their claws before slowly digesting their prey like an interstellar sarlaac. Material orbiting a black hole Needs lose energy and speed before falling beyond the event horizon – the “point of no return for material falling into a black hole.”
Magnetic fields can cause braking forces, stealing energy from material orbiting a black hole. As this material falls inward, black holes gain in mass.
“If a playground merry-go-round is moving too fast, it’s hard for a kid to move to the center, so someone or something has to slow down. Around supermassive black holes, we believe that the jets can absorb enough energy so that the material can fall inward and the black hole can grow, ”explained Thomas connor from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).
Wave after wave
“A lot of things you see in science fiction revolve around black holes because black holes are strong enough to tear the fabric of space and time.” – Michio Kaku
Observations of PJ352–15 and its quasar jet were taken over three days, using the Chandra X-ray telescope orbiting above Earth. This space observatory spotted the X-rays of the quasar filming 160,000 light years from the center of the quasar – a distance of 60% longer than the Milky Way is wide. The radio waves seen from the jet did not extend as far as possible.
It is, by far, the longest jet ever observed emanating from a quasar seen since the first billion years after the Big Bang. The previous record holder had a jet of only 5,000 light years.
In the video below, we take a look at galaxies orbiting an ancient quasar. (Video credit: The Cosmic Companion)
“The length of this jet is important because it means that the supermassive black hole that powers it has been developing for a considerable time. This result underscores the extent to which X-ray studies of distant quasars provide a critical means of studying the growth of the most distant supermassive black holes, ”explains Eduardo Bañados of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA).
Quasar PJ352–15 is also 300 million light years from us as the most distant similar object known. When the light that Chandra saw today left its source, the Universe was less than a billion years old. At that point, the energy that we now see as microwave cosmic background radiation (CMB) was much more intense than what we see in the modern Universe.
The study analysis will be published in The astrophysical journal.