As astronomers ventured into the depths of a hungry black hole, their gaze unveiled a remarkable sight—a fierce surge of X-rays erupting from it, boasting a temperature a staggering 60,000 times hotter than the surface of our very own sun.
Quasars are black holes that emit dazzling, energetic electromagnetic radiation jets from both sides when they consume the gases at the center of galaxies. The team’s X-ray photograph of a quasar known as SMSS J114447.77-430859.3 (J1144), is the most brilliant such object to have been spotted in the last 9 billion years of cosmic history. This amazing quasar radiates with intensity beyond our wildest dreams, outshining the sun’s brightness by an astounding factor of 100,000 billion. If you gaze upon the night sky amidst the celestial dance of Centaurus and Hydra, you may catch a glimpse of this celestial wonder, although it resides a mind-boggling distance of 9.6 billion light-years away.
The combined light from all the stars of the galaxies they are located in is frequently eclipsed by quasars like J1144 because they are so bright. They serve as instances of so-called active galactic nuclei (AGN), which are only discovered in the early cosmos and at great distances from Earth. Astronomers may gain a thorough understanding of these potent cosmic occurrences and the impact they have on their galaxy surroundings by studying the quasar.
Quasars are thought to be present in the early cosmos because galaxies at that time were richer in gas and dust, according to scientific theory. They had enough fuel to support dazzling emissions across nearly the entire electromagnetic spectrum, including low-energy radio, infrared, visible, ultraviolet, and high-energy X-ray wavelengths, thanks to their center black holes, which could be seen as a source of light.
SkyMapper Southern Survey (SMSS) first observed J1144 in the visible spectrum in 2022. The team, which was also directed by Ph.D. candidate Zsofi Igo from the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE), combined observations from various space-based observatories to further investigate this finding. These included the eROSITA instrument of the NASA Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), the ESA XMM-Newton observatory, and the NASA Neil Gehrels Swift observatory.
By utilizing the amalgamation of data at our disposal, we were able to discern an astounding estimation regarding the temperature of the X-rays emanating from the quasars, indicating an astonishing value of approximately 630 million degrees Fahrenheit (350 million degrees Celsius). This is surprisingly startling 60,000 times hotter than the surface temperature of the sun.
Additionally, the diligent researchers conducted estimations to unveil the mass of the black hole, ultimately revealing a remarkable finding—a colossal magnitude weighing in at around 10 billion times the mass of our beloved sun. In addition, given how swiftly it devours stuff, J1144’s supermassive black hole is growing at a pace of 100 suns every year. The gas that surrounds this black hole is not all going into it, though.
The researchers found that a little amount of gas is being blasted from the quasar in the form of incredibly strong winds that are supplying a significant amount of energy to the galaxy it is located in.
The scientists also found that J1144 has a characteristic that sets it apart from other quasars: Its X-ray emission changes over just a few Earth days. The fluctuation of its X-rays would typically be on a timeframe of months or even years for a quasar with a black hole this big.
“We were very surprised that no prior X-ray observatory has ever observed this source despite its extreme power,” Kammoun added. “A new monitoring campaign of this source will start in June this year, which may reveal more surprises from this unique source.”