Artist’s conception of distant quasar P352-15, with disk of material orbiting the black hole and jet of fast-moving particles ejected into space. Image credit: Robin Dienel/Carnegie
Astronomers using the National Science Foundation’s Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) have made an image revealing tantalising 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.
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