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Scientists Discover Most Distant Quasar With Powerful Radio Jets

This artist’s impression shows how the distant quasar P172+18 and its radio jets may have looked. To date (early 2021), this is the most distant quasar with radio jets ever found and it was studied with the help of ESO’s Very Large Telescope. It is so distant that light from it has travelled for about 13 billion years to reach us: we see it as it was when the Universe was only about 780 million years old.

With the help of the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (ESO VLT), astronomers studied it in detail, discovering the most distant source of radio radiation ever known. The source is a rather distant” radio — bright ” quasar — a bright object that makes strong jet oscillations at radio wavelengths-and it takes 13 billion years for its light to reach us.

With this discovery, astronomers can reach important clues about the early universe. Quasars at the center of some galaxies are very bright objects and feed on supermassive black holes. Black holes that consume gas around them emit energy, so astronomers can detect these events that occur quite far away. The newly discovered quasar, nicknamed P172 + 18, is so far away that it takes 13 billion years for its light to reach us: the universe was only 780 million years old when we saw it.

Although more distant quasars have been discovered, astronomers have detected radio jets in the quasar at such an early stage of the universe for the first time. Classified by astronomers as “radio bright”, only 10% of quasars have jets, and they appear quite bright at radio frequencies.

It Feeds A Black Hole With A Mass 300 Million Times Larger Than The Sun

P172+18 is fed by a black hole 300 million times larger than our Sun, consuming an incredible amount of gas. “The black hole is rapidly depleting the matter around it and its mass is increasing at the highest rate ever observed,” explains ESO astronomer Chiara Mazzucchelli, who led the research that led to the discovery with Eduardo Bañados of the Max Planck Institute of Astronomy. Astronomers predict a link between the rapid growth of supermassive black holes and the powerful radio jets seen in quasars like P172+18.

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This visible-light, wide-field image of the region around the distant quasar P172+18 was created from images in the Digitized Sky Survey 2. The object itself lies very close to the centre and is not visible in this picture, but many other, much closer, galaxies are seen in this wide-field view.

The Jets are thought to disrupt gas around the black hole, accelerating the flow of gas. Therefore, radio-bright quasars provide important information about how black holes found in the early Universe reached supermassive States shortly after the Big Bang. ” I find it very exciting to discover ‘new’ black holes for the first time and to uncover another building block to understand the primitive Universe, hence to better understand the origins of ourselves, ” says Mazzucchelli. P172 + 18 had been identified by Bañados and Mazzucchelli with the Magellan Telescope at the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile as a distant quasar, after previously being detected as a radio source.

“After obtaining the data, we examined it with the eye and immediately realized that we had discovered the most distant radio-bright quasar ever known,” says Bañados. However, due to the short observation time, the team was unable to gather enough data to examine the object in detail. The team then had the opportunity to more deeply monitor the properties of this quasar with other observations, including The X-shooter device on ESO’s VLT; it was able to access important information such as how fast the black hole consumes its mass and surrounding matter. Other telescopes supporting the study include the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Very Large Array and the Keck telescopes in the United States.

While the team is excited about their discovery, published in The Astrophysical Journal, they think this radio-bright quasar is perhaps one of many that could be found even further away. “This discovery makes me optimistic, and I believe — and hope — that the distance record will be broken soon,” says Bañados. Observations with facilities such as ALMA, of which ESO is a partner, and ESO’s future Ultra-Large Telescope (ELT) could help uncover and investigate such early universe objects in more detail.

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