Swirling galaxies around the red quasar combine into a 'monster' black hole

Swirling galaxies around the red quasar combine into a ‘monster’ black hole

Using the James Webb Space Telescope to look back at the early time of the universe, astronomers have discovered a surprise.

Using the James Webb Space Telescope to look back at the early universe, astronomers have discovered a surprise: a group of galaxies merging together around a rare red quasar inside a supermassive black hole. The results offer an unprecedented opportunity to observe how galaxies merged billions of years ago into the modern universe.

“We think something exciting is about to happen in these systems,” said co-author Andrey Vayner, a postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins University who studies the evolution of galaxies. “A galaxy at this perfect moment in its life, is about to transform and look completely different in a few billion years.”

The work is in print in Astrophysical Journal Letters and available today in the arXiv Papers Repository.

James Webb space telescopewhich was launched last December by NASAThe European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency are the largest and most powerful telescopes ever sent into space. Its initial public observations were revealed in July, but these quasar images are one of 13 “early look” projects selected by a highly competitive global competition to determine where to point the telescope during its first months of operation.

In Baltimore, the Johns Hopkins team heard that their chosen target would be noticed within days of President Biden’s first unveiling of Web images on July 11, so they stayed close to their computers. The summer of that following Saturday, Feiner and graduate student Yuzu Ishikawa frequently updated Web’s database when the data suddenly arrived, prompting a hastily assembled multinational team meeting Sunday to try to make sense of the astonishingly detailed raw images.

Despite previous observations of this area by NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope And the near-infrared field spectrometer in the northern Gemini region telescope The quasar accurately identified and hinted at the possibility of a galaxy transition, and no one suspected that with Webb’s crisp imaging they would see multiple galaxies, at least three, hovering in the region.

“With the previous images, we thought we saw hints that the galaxy might be interacting with other galaxies on the merger path because their shapes deform in the process, and we thought we might have seen that,” said co-principal researcher Nadia Zakamska. Astrophysicist at Johns Hopkins University World Health Organization He helped conceptualize the project in 2017 with Dominica Welsalek, a postdoctoral researcher at Johns Hopkins University, who is now a group leader at the University of Heidelberg. “But after we got the web data, I was like, ‘I have no idea what we’re even looking at here, what are all these things!’ “We spent several weeks just staring and staring at these pictures.”

Webb revealed at least three galaxies moving at amazing speed, which indicates the presence of a large amount of mass. The team believes that this could be one of the densest regions of galaxy formation in the early universe.

Because light takes time to travel to it we, when we look at things like this in the very distant regions of the universe, we see light that was emitted about 11.5 billion years ago, or from the very early stages of the universe’s evolution. Large swarms of galaxies like this were likely common at the time, Zakamska said.

“It’s very exciting to be one of the first people to see this really cool thing,” said Ishikawa, who helped explain the swarm of galaxies.

Even Vayner, who had dreamed of using Webb’s data since he first heard about the telescope as an undergraduate more than a decade ago and thought he knew what to expect, was shocked to see his long-studied place in the universe unfold with such clarity.

“This will really change our understanding of this object,” said Viner, who has been instrumental in adapting raw Web data for scientific analysis.

The bright quasar, fueled by what Zakamska calls a “monster” black hole at the center of the galactic vortex, is a rare “extremely red” quasar, about 11.5 billion years old and one of the most powerful quasars seen from this distance. It’s essentially a black hole in the formation, Feiner said, eating the gas around it and growing in its own mass. Between clouds of dust and gas a land The glowing gas near the black hole makes the quasar appear red.

The team is already working on following up on observations in this unexpected galaxy cluster, hoping to better understand how dense and chaotic clusters of galaxies form, and how they are affected by the supermassive black hole at its core.

“What you see here is only a small subset of what is in the data set,” Zakamska said. “There is a lot going on here, so we first highlighted what is really the biggest surprise. Every point here is a small galaxy merging into this parent galaxy and colors at different speeds and everything is moving in a very complex way. We can now begin to untangle the motions “.

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