Astronomers have used NASA’s Chandra x-ray Observatory to discover a powerful jet from a very distant supermassive black hole that is being illuminated by the oldest light in the universe.
This discovery shows that black holes with powerful jets may be more common than previously thought in the first few billion years after the Big Bang. The light detected from this jet was emitted when the universe was only 2.7 billion years old, a fifth of its present age.
In this period of the universe, the intensity of the cosmic microwave background radiation or CMB left over from the Big Bang was much greater than it is today.
Because we’re seeing this jet when the Universe was less than three billion years old, the jet is about 150 times brighter in X-rays than it would be in the nearby Universe,
said Aurora Simionescu ~ lead author of the study published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
This jet was found in the system known as be B3 0727+409, is at least 300,000 like years long. Many long Jets emitted by supermassive black holes have been detected in the nearby universe, but no one is exactly sure how these jets give off X-rays. In B3 0727+409, it appears that the cosmic microwave background is somehow being boosted x-ray wavelengths.
Astronomer say that as the electrons in the jet fly from the black hole at close to the speed of light they moved through the ‘sea’ of CMB radiation and collide with microwave photons boosting the energy of the photons up to the x-ray band allowing it to be detected by Chandra.
We essentially stumbled onto this remarkable jet because it happened to be in Chandra’s field of view while we were observing something else,
said co-author Lukasz Stawarz.
This implies that the electrons in the B3 0727+409′ jet must keep moving at nearly the speed of light for hundreds of thousands of light-years. Electrons in black hole’ jets are usually quite brighter at radio wavelengths so typically these things are found using radio observations.
The discovery of the jet here is special though, because so far almost no radio signal has been detected from this object while it’s easily see in the x-ray image.
So far, astronomers have identified very few Jets distant enough that their x-ray brightness is amplified by the CMB as clearly as in this system:
If bright X-ray jets can exist with very faint or undetected radio counterparts, it means that there could be many more of them out there because we haven’t been systematically looking for them.
The phenomenon also might explain more about conditions in the early Universe.
Supermassive black hole activity, including the launching of jets, may be different in the early Universe than what we see later on,
according to co-author Teddy Cheung.
By finding and studying more of these distant jets, we can start to grasp how the properties of supermassive black holes might change over billions of years.