The history of astronomy is a history of receding horizons, said Edwin Hubble. Enter the radio “vision” of the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA), which has revealed previously unseen details of a jet seen as it was when the universe was less than a billion years old, or just over 7 percent of its current age. The material was ejected at three-quarters the speed of light from the core of a galaxy some 12.8 billion light-years from Earth. The galaxy, dubbed PSO J0309+27, is a blazar, with its jet pointed toward Earth, and is the brightest radio-emitting blazar yet seen at such a distance. It also is the second-brightest X-ray emitting blazar at such a distance.
In this image, the brightest radio emission comes from the galaxy’s core, at bottom right reports the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. The jet is propelled by the gravitational energy of a supermassive black hole at the core, and moves outward, toward the upper left. The jet seen here extends some 1,600 light-years, and shows structure within it.
An international team of astronomers led by Cristiana Spingola of the University of Bologna in Italy, observed the galaxy in April and May of 2020. Their analysis of the object’s properties provides support for some theoretical models for why blazars are rare in the early universe. The researchers reported their results in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.
Image credit: Spingola et al.; Bill Saxton, NRAO/AUI/NSF.
Editor, Jackie Faherty, astrophysicist, Senior Scientist with the American Museum of Natural History. Jackie was formerly a NASA Hubble Fellow at the Carnegie Institution for Science. Aside from a love of scientific research, she is a passionate educator and can often be found giving public lectures in the Hayden Planetarium. Her research team has won multiple grants from NASA, NSF, and the Heising Simons foundation to support projects focused on characterizing planet-like objects. She has also co-founded the popular citizen science project entitled Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 which invites the general public to help scan the solar neighborhood for previously missed cold worlds. Faherty has over 100 peer reviewed articles in astrophysical journals, has been an invited speaker at universities and conferences across the globe. Jackie received the 2020 Vera Rubin Early Career Prize from the American Astronomical Society, an award that recognizes scientists who have made an impact in the field of dynamical astronomy and the 2021 Robert H Goddard Award for science accomplishments.