The researchers observed the X-ray emission of the brightest quasar seen in the last 9 billion years of cosmic history, known as SMSS J114447.77-430859.3, or J1144 for short. The new perspective sheds light on the inner workings of quasars and how they interact with their environment. Research published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Hosted by a galaxy 9.6 billion light-years away from Earth, between the constellations of Centaurus and Hydra, J1144 is incredibly powerful, 100,000 billion times brighter than the Sun. J1144 is much closer to Earth than other sources of similar brightness, allowing astronomers to gain insight into the black hole powering the quasar and its surrounding environment. The study was led by Dr. Elias Kammoun, a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute for Research in Astrophysics and Planetary Science (IRAP), and Zsovi Ego, a doctoral candidate at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE).
Quasars are among the brightest and most distant objects in the known universe, and they are powered by gas falling into a supermassive black hole. They can be described as extremely high-luminosity active galactic nuclei (AGNs) that emit huge amounts of electromagnetic radiation observable in radio, infrared, visible, ultraviolet and X-ray waves. J1144 was initially observed at visible wavelengths in 2022 by the SkyMapper Southern Survey (SMSS).
In this study, the researchers combined observations from several space observatories: the eROSITA instrument aboard the Spectrum-Roentgen-Gamma Observatory (SRG), ESA’s XMM-Newton Observatory, NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), and NASA’s Neil Gehrels. Quick Observatory.
The team used data from the four observatories to measure the temperature of the X-rays emitted by the quasar. They found that this temperature is about 350 million K, more than 60,000 times the temperature on the surface of the Sun. The team also found that the mass of the black hole at the center of the quasar is about 10 billion times that of the Sun, and its growth rate is about 100 solar masses per year.
The X-ray light from this source varied on a timescale of a few days, which is not usually seen in quasars with large black holes like the one in J1144. A typical time scale for a black hole of this size would be on the order of months or even years. Observations have also shown that as the black hole swallows part of the gas, some of the gas is ejected in the form of very strong winds, injecting large amounts of energy into the host galaxy.
“We were very surprised that no previous X-ray observatory had detected this source despite its extreme power,” says Dr. Kamoon, lead author of the paper.
He adds: “Similar quasars are usually found at much greater distances, so they appear fainter, and we see them as they were when the universe was only 2-3 billion years old. J1144 is a very rare source because it is very luminous and much closer to Earth (although it is not are still very far away!), giving us a unique glimpse into what such powerful quasars look like.”
He added, “A new monitoring campaign for this source will start in June of this year, which may reveal more surprises from this unique source.”