In a groundbreaking observation, astronomers have peered deep into the heart of a voracious black hole only to unveil a remarkable spectacle: a jet of X-rays beaming out from it that is a staggering 60,000 times hotter than the scorching surface of the sun, Space.com reports.
To put it in simple terms, quasars are black holes that possess vibrant and energetic jets of electromagnetic radiation, emanating from two sides as they gorge on gases situated at the core of galaxies. The group of astronomers has now captured images of an X-ray emitting quasar named SMSS J114447.77–430859.3 (J1144), which happens to be the most luminous specimen of its kind observed within the last 9 billion years of cosmic history. This extraordinary quasar is positioned at the nucleus of a galaxy approximately 9.6 billion light-years away from Earth, visible in the sky between the constellations of Centaurus and Hydra. It outshines the sun by an astonishing magnitude of around 100,000 billion times.
Quasars like J1144 are so brilliantly radiant that they often outshine the combined luminosity of all the stars dwelling within the galaxies hosting them. They belong to a category known as active galactic nuclei (AGN) and are typically found at vast distances from Earth, effectively representing the early universe. Thoroughly studying this quasar could provide astronomers with invaluable insights into these immensely powerful cosmic phenomena and the profound impact they exert on their galactic surroundings.
Scientists hypothesize that quasars tend to inhabit the early universe due to the fact that galaxies shortly after the Big Bang were replete with copious amounts of gas and dust. This abundant fuel enabled their central black holes to generate intense emissions spanning the entire electromagnetic spectrum, encompassing radio waves, infrared, visible light, ultraviolet wavelengths, and the high-energy X-rays observed in the case of J1144.
J1144 initially came under the spotlight through its visibility in ordinary light, as observed by the SkyMapper Southern Survey (SMSS) in 2022. Eager to further explore this revelation, the team, spearheaded by Zsofi Igo, a Ph.D. candidate at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE), combined data from multiple space-based observatories. These encompassed the eROSITA instrument aboard the Spectrum-Roentgen-Gamma (SRG) observatory, the XMM-Newton observatory of the European Space Agency (ESA), NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), and NASA's Neil Gehrels Swift observatory.
This amalgamation of data empowered the astronomers to measure the temperature of the X-rays emanating from the quasar, leading to the astonishing revelation that they reached temperatures of around 630 million degrees Fahrenheit (350 million degrees Celsius). To put this into perspective, this mind-boggling heat is a staggering 60,000 times hotter than the sun's surface temperature.
Additionally, the team successfully estimated the mass of the black hole responsible for generating these emissions, determining it to be approximately 10 billion times the mass of the sun. What's more, the supermassive black hole residing within J1144 is devouring matter at an unprecedented rate of 100 solar masses per year. However, not all the surrounding gas is being consumed by the insatiable black hole.
The scientists have detected the presence of immensely powerful winds expelling gas from the quasar, thus injecting substantial amounts of energy into the galaxy surrounding it.
The team also found that J1144 has a characteristic that sets it apart from other quasars: The X-ray light it emits varies on a timescale of just a few Earth days. For a quasar with a black hole this size, the variability of its X-rays would usually be on a timescale of months or even years.
The team's research is published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.