Most distant X-rays detected in the Universe

NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory has recently discovered a jet of X-rays originating from a supermassive black hole which is 12.4 billion light years away from Earth. This is the most distant X-ray jet which has ever been observed by a distance of 200 million light years and can allow more insight into the early universe. The particle beams producing this jet appear to be moving more slowly than the jets from galaxies which are less far away, either due to the jet having less energy, or due to the beams being attenuated more by their environment.

GB1428+4217 is the name of the quasar which is producing this beam of high energy particles, by the release of energy as matter is sucked into black holes. Radiation jets are produced as these particles interact with magnetic fields or photons.  These radiation jets gain more energy as they collide with fast moving electrons and can gain energies within the X-ray range. The brightness of these jets can be an indicator of particle speed and the jets can also be detected as radio waves.

The detection of such a distant jet was possible due to the amassing of certain favourable factors. Firstly, the quasar is seen within the universe at an age of around 1.3 billion years, and so the cosmic background radiation is a thousand times more intense than now, which amplifies the jet signal. Secondly, spatial evidence points to the jet being pointed directly at Earth, allowing us a head on view of the radiation.

About Helen Ashcroft

Helen is studying for her DPhil in Earth Sciences.