Distant Quasar Providing Clues to Early-Universe Conditions

Astronomers using the National Science Foundation’s Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) have made an image revealing tantalizing details of a quasar nearly 13 billion light-years from Earth — an object that may provide important clues about the physical processes at work in the Universe’s first galaxies.

The scientists studied a quasar called PSO J352.4034-15.3373 (P352-15), an unusually bright emitter of radio waves for an object so distant. The extremely sharp radio “vision” of the VLBA showed the object split into three major components, two of which show further subdivision. The components are spread over a distance of only about 5,000 light-years.

Quasars are galaxies with supermassive black holes at their cores — black holes millions or billions of times more massive than the Sun. The powerful gravitational pull of such a black hole draws in nearby material, which forms a rotating disk around the massive object. The rapidly-spinning disk spews jets of particles moving outward at speeds approaching that of light. These energetic “engines” are bright emitters of light and radio waves.

“This is the most detailed image yet of such a bright galaxy at this great distance,” said Emmanuel Momjian, of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO).

“There is a dearth of known strong radio emitters from the Universe’s youth and this is the brightest radio quasar at that epoch by a factor of 10,” said Eduardo Banados of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Pasadena, California.

“We are seeing P352-15 as it was when the Universe was less than a billion years old, or only about 7 percent of its current age,” said Chris Carilli, of NRAO. “This is near the end of a period when the first stars and galaxies were re-ionizing the neutral hydrogen atoms that pervaded intergalactic space. Further observations may allow us to use this quasar as a background ‘lamp’ to measure the amount of neutral hydrogen remaining at that time,” he added.

The astronomers said the three major components of P352-15 can be explained in one of two ways. One explanation is that they’re seeing the bright core of the quasar, corresponding to the location of the supermassive black hole itself, at one end, and the two other bright spots are parts of a one-sided jet. The other possibility is that their middle object is the core, and the other objects are jets ejected in opposite directions. Because one of the end objects is closest to the position of the quasar as seen with visible-light telescopes, they consider the one-sided jet to be the more likely explanation.

The one-sided jet explanation raises the exciting possibility that astronomers may be able to detect and measure the expansion of the jet by observing P352-15 over several years.

“This quasar may be the most distant object in which we could measure the speed of such a jet,” Momjian said.

If, instead, the middle object is the core, with two oppositely-moving jets, its small size suggests that it may be very young or be embedded in dense gas that is slowing the jets’ expansion.

Planned future observations will tell which scenario is accurate, the scientists said.

“This quasar’s brightness and its great distance make it a unique tool to study the conditions and processes that prevailed in the first galaxies in the Universe,” Carilli said. “We look forward to unraveling more of its mysteries,” he added.

Momjian, Banados, and Carilli worked with Fabian Walter of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany; and Bram Venemans, also of the Max Planck Institute. The astronomers are reporting their findings in the Astrophysical Journal.

The Long Baseline Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation, operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc.

###

Media Contact:

Dave Finley, Public Information Officer
(575) 835-7302
[email protected]

###

Papers

in ApJ: Resolving the Powerful Radio-loud Quasar at z ~ 6:

https://doi.org/10.3847/1538-4357/aac76f

In APJ Letters: A Powerful Radio-loud Quasar at the End of Cosmic Reionization:

https://doi.org/10.3847/2041-8213/aac511

###

In Other News…

Pride Month Statement

Pride Month is a time for celebration of LGBTQIA+ communities in commemoration of the Stonewall Uprising of 1969. At AUI, we celebrate an environment that is safe and welcoming to all, and the strength that our diversity brings us.

Cyber Expert Wins FBI Community Leadership Award

Robert R. Wells, special agent in charge of the Charlotte Division of the FBI has chosen a local cyber expert as the 2020 Director’s Community Leadership Award (DCLA) recipient for North Carolina. Torry Crass has been an invaluable partner to the FBI Charlotte field office since 2013.

2021 AUI Scholarship Recipients

Below are the fourteen winners of the 2021 AUI Scholarship conducted by International Scholarship and Tuition Services, Inc. These students will each receive an award of $3,500 per year to aid in defraying expenses at the college or university of their choice.

ITL Development Director: “We are convinced that our proposal is solid and meets all the requirements”

In an interview with Nueva Mining and Energy Magazine, Ricardo Raineri, Director of Development of the Chilean Institute of Clean Technologies (ITL) refers to the criticism that has hovered over Corfo’s decision, arguing that “it is essential to understand and emphasize that our proposal is based on an open platform model ”.

West Virginia Students Contact International Space Station LIVE

Friday, May 7th at 8:00 AM EDT, students in rural West Virginia will experience this once in a lifetime opportunity. Green Bank Elementary-Middle School (GBEMS) will be contacting astronaut Mark Vande Hei on the International Space Station (ISS).

The Universe just Became More Accessible: Free Software for Exploring the Universe Through Sound

Today free software has been released to help the blind and visually impaired (BIV) explore the universe through sound. With the support from the National Science Foundation’s STEM+C program, Innovators Developing Accessible Tools for Astronomy (IDATA) brought together nearly 200 BIV and sighted students, teachers, astronomers and programmers from across the Nation to create this innovative software called Afterglow Access.

Nueva Mineria covers the importance of ICTL’s Open Science model pioneered by AUI

The ICTL is a Chilean clean technology institute that is committed to developing innovations in the mining, power, battery, manufacturing, and related industrial sectors. The Open Science model allows a larger community to access R&D facilities based on the merit of their proposals.

VIDEO: Multi-wavelength Observations Reveal Impact of Black Hole on M87 Galaxy

In 2019, a worldwide collaboration of scientists used a global collection of radio telescopes called the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) to make the first-ever image of a black hole — the supermassive black hole at the core of the galaxy M87, some 55 million light-years from Earth.

ACEAP Alumna Selected as Astronaut for SpaceX

Sian Procter, a participant in the Astronomy in Chile Educator Ambassadors Program (ACEAP) in 2016, has been selected as an astronaut by SpaceX. The Inspiration4 mission, scheduled to launch sometime after 15 September 2021, will orbit Earth for three days and conduct a variety of experiments.

New Images Reveal Magnetic Structures Near Supermassive Black Hole

The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) — the worldwide collaboration that produced the first image of a black hole in 2019 — has produced a new image showing details of the magnetic fields in the region closest to the supermassive black hole at the core of the galaxy M87. The new work is providing astronomers with important clues about how powerful jets of material can be produced in that region.

You are now leaving AUI

You will be redirected to the related partnering organization's website.

You will be redirected to
in 4 seconds...

Click the link above to continue or CANCEL