Unprecedented Quasar Illuminates Cosmic Enigmas: The Most Luminous in 9 Billion Years

by Liam O'Connor
5 comments
Quasar J1144

Representation of a quasar. Image Credit: Artist illustration: NOIRLab/NSF/AURA/J. da Silva

In the past 9 billion years of the cosmos’ history, researchers have detected the X-ray emissions from the most radiant quasar ever observed. This quasar, referred to as SMSS J114447.77-430859.3, or J1144 for brevity, provides fresh understanding about quasars’ internal operations and their interaction with the encompassing universe. The team’s discoveries have been published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Located in a galaxy around 9.6 billion light years from Earth, between the Centaurus and Hydra constellations, J1144 boasts incredible brightness, outshining the sun by a factor of 100,000 billion. Its relative closeness to Earth, compared to similar luminous entities, has given astronomers a unique chance to learn about the black hole driving the quasar and the surrounding space.

The study was spearheaded by Dr. Elias Kammoun, a postdoctoral fellow at the Research Institute in Astrophysics and Planetology (IRAP), and Zsofi Igo, a doctoral candidate at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE).

Quasars, some of the brightest and most distant objects in the observable universe, are energized by the gravitational collapse of gas into a supermassive black hole. They are highly luminous active galactic nuclei (AGN) emitting significant electromagnetic radiation across radio, infrared, visible, ultraviolet, and X-ray spectra. J1144 was first spotted in visible wavelengths in 2022 by the SkyMapper Southern Survey (SMSS).

For this research, the team blended observations from multiple space-based observatories: the eROSITA instrument on the Spectrum-Roentgen-Gamma (SRG) observatory, the ESA XMM-Newton observatory, NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), and NASA’s Neil Gehrels Swift observatory.

The group utilized the data from these observatories to ascertain the temperature of the X-rays radiated from the quasar. They discovered the temperature to be around 350 million Kelvin, surpassing the Sun’s surface temperature over 60,000 times. They also deduced that the mass of the black hole at the heart of the quasar is roughly 10 billion times that of the Sun, with its growth rate estimated at about 100 solar masses annually.

The X-ray light from this quasar fluctuated over a few days, which is unusual for quasars with black holes as substantial as J1144’s. The expected variability period for a black hole of this size is typically months or even years. The observations additionally highlighted that while some gas is consumed by the black hole, some is expelled in the form of powerful winds, introducing vast amounts of energy into the host galaxy.

Dr. Kammoun, the paper’s lead author, expressed his surprise that “no previous X-ray observatory has ever detected this source despite its remarkable potency.”

He further explained, “We typically find similar quasars at much larger distances, making them appear dimmer, and we perceive them as they existed when the Universe was only 2-3 billion years old. J1144 is an exceptional source as it is tremendously luminous and considerably closer to Earth (though still extraordinarily distant!), offering us a rare view of what such powerful quasars look like.”

“A new observational campaign for this source will commence in June this year, which may unveil more unexpected discoveries from this singular source.”

Reference: “The first X-ray look at SMSS J114447.77-430859.3: the most luminous quasar in the last 9 Gyr” by E S Kammoun, Z Igo, J M Miller, A C Fabian, M T Reynolds, A Merloni, D Barret, E Nardini, P O Petrucci, E Piconcelli, S Barnier, J Buchner, T Dwelly, I Grotova, M Krumpe, T Liu, K Nandra, A Rau, M Salvato, T Urrutia and J Wolf, 3 April 2023, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
DOI: 10.1093/mnras/stad952

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Quasar J1144

What is the significance of Quasar J1144?

Quasar J1144 is the brightest quasar ever recorded in the past 9 billion years of cosmic history. It provides new insights into the internal workings of quasars and their interactions with the surrounding cosmos. This quasar, situated approximately 9.6 billion light years away from Earth, is 100,000 billion times brighter than the Sun.

Who led the study of Quasar J1144?

The study was led by Dr. Elias Kammoun, a postdoctoral researcher at the Research Institute in Astrophysics and Planetology (IRAP), and Zsofi Igo, a Ph.D. candidate at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE).

How was Quasar J1144 observed?

For this study, researchers combined observations from several space-based observatories: the eROSITA instrument on board the Spectrum-Roentgen-Gamma (SRG) observatory, the ESA XMM-Newton observatory, NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), and NASA’s Neil Gehrels Swift observatory.

What unique features were discovered in Quasar J1144?

The team found the temperature of the X-rays being emitted from the quasar to be around 350 million Kelvin, more than 60,000 times the temperature at the surface of the Sun. They also discovered that the mass of the black hole at the quasar’s center is around 10 billion times the mass of the Sun, and the rate at which it is growing to be of the order of 100 solar masses per year.

What are the future plans for studying Quasar J1144?

A new monitoring campaign for Quasar J1144 is set to start in June of the year following the study, with the aim of revealing more surprises from this unique source.

More about Quasar J1144

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5 comments

Samantha Wheeler July 17, 2023 - 3:57 am

So the quasar is 9.6 billion light years away, yet it’s considered ‘close’. Space is mind-blowing!

Reply
AstroNerd85 July 17, 2023 - 10:19 am

dr Kammoun and his team must be ecstatic to make such a discovery. can’t wait for their future work on this!

Reply
Vicky Rodriguez July 17, 2023 - 1:19 pm

I’m always amazed by how much we’re still learning about our universe. This quasar study…super cool.

Reply
Mark Twining July 17, 2023 - 4:55 pm

Wow! a quasar 100,000 billion times brighter than the sun. thats incredible. Never cease to amaze, the universe!

Reply
Mike P July 17, 2023 - 7:17 pm

Black holes and quasars are just fascinating, aren’t they? so much power and mystery packed into them. this J1144 one’s a real spectacle.

Reply

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