Using the telescopes at the Large Binocular Telescope Observatory (LBTO) in Arizona, a research team recently observed a blazar located 13 billion light-years from Earth. This object, designated PSO J030947.49+271757.31 (or PSO J0309+27), is the most distant blazar ever observed and foretells the existence of many more!
The object was selected by cross-matching data from the Very Large Array (VLA) Sky Survey and the Panoramic Survey Telescope Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) PS1 database. The team then conducted observations using NASA’s Swift Space Telescope and the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT).
Already, astronomers suspected that PSO J0309+27 was a very distant object. While the observations made with the Swift’s X-Ray Telescope (XRT) showed that it was very bright in the X-ray band (similar to other known blazars), it was the optical observations obtained with the Multi-Double Object Spectrographs (MODS) on the LBT that confirmed that it was the most distant blazar observed to date.
Like all blazars, PSO J0309+27 is a bright radio source and has a stream of high-energy particles traveling close to the speed of light (aka. a relativistic jet) extending from its center and can be seen from across the known Universe. However, these jets are only visible along a narrow line of sight, which means the Earth has to be aligned with it and makes detection rather difficult.
But since it was found at a distance of 13 billion light-years from Earth, that means that this blazar was active less than one billion years after the Big Bang. What’s more, it is one of the earliest known examples of an AGN that is not obscured by dust, which gives astronomers the opportunity to study this object across the entire electromagnetic spectrum.
In short, PSO J0309+27 is the most powerful persistent radio and X-ray source to ever be viewed at these distances. Based on their observations with the LBT (which they are still analyzing), the astronomers estimate that the central black hole powering this blazar is about one billion times the mass of the Sun. Compared that to our own galaxy’s SMBH (Sagittarius A*), which is about four million times the mass of our Sun.
What’s more, blazars like this that existed less than a billion years after the Big Bang likely represent the “seeds” from which all SMBHs that exist in the Universe today emerged. Further research in this area could provide new insights into the evolution of the Universe, leading to new cosmological models.
Source: “Blazar Found Blazing When the Universe was Only a Billion Years Old” Universe Today, 19 March 2020.<https://www.universetoday.com/145434/blazar-found-blazing-when-the-universe-was-only-a-billion-years-old/>