The most distant black hole ever observed

Hyperaxion Mar 9, 2020

The galactic nucleus formed by a supermassive black hole (with a mass a billion times greater than the Sun) appeared just 1 billion years after the Big Bang.

Observation of an active galactic nucleus 13 billion light-years away is bringing researchers important details about the formation of the universe and the behavior of ancient supermassive black holes at the center of galaxies. The blazar PSO J030947.49 + 271757.31 (a type of galaxy whose center “shoots” gamma radiation in very high concentrations) is the most distant ever cataloged in the known universe.

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The PSO J0309 + 27 light, as it was abbreviated, originated when the universe was less than 1 billion years old, almost 13 billion years ago. Blazars are one of the brightest active galactic nuclei, because of the ionized gas disk that orbits around the supermassive black hole in its core. Blazars emit powerful relativistic jets bright enough to be seen across the universe.

Blazars emit powerful relativistic jets bright enough to be seen across the universe.
(Credit: CC0 Public Domain).

The problem is that a blazar’s beam is visible only along a narrow line of sight. If the Earth is not aligned with this trajectory, detecting these objects can be extremely difficult. In addition, PSO J0309 + 27 is not obscured by dust (unlike most active cores) which allows astronomers to study this object across the electromagnetic spectrum and build a complete picture of its properties.

The blazar was discovered by a team of researchers led by Silvia Belladitta, from the Italian National Institute of Astrophysics in Milan, and reported in an article published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics. “Watching a blazar is extremely important. For all the sources discovered of this type, we know that there must be 100 similar ones, but most are oriented differently and, therefore, are too weak to be seen directly,” explains Belladitta.

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Thanks to the blazar’s position in relation to our planet, the PSO J0309 + 27 will allow astronomers to quantify, for the first time, the powerful relativistic jets present in the early universe. The blazars of those early times represent the “seeds” of all the supermassive black holes that exist in the universe today.

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