Ancient Universe is a truly mysterious place and we’re only starting to grasp what could have been going on in there at the dawn of times. One theory suggests that it was chock-full of supermassive black holes that spewed energy all around after devouring surrounding gas, star, and matter. Remnants of those distant times can still be observed if the astronomers are lucky enough to intercept one of those ‘radio-loud’ supermassive black holes shining brightly in the darkness of the Universe. It is most likely to happen when the SMBH is pointed right at us. And guess what? One such black hole, called blazar due to its orientation towards Earth, was recently found by astronomers!
We have found blazars before, like the one in the Cygnus A galaxy that is really not that far from Milky Way, but now astronomers have spotted a much more ancient supermassive black hole that is 1 billion times bigger than the Sun. It is one of the oldest primeval SMBHs ever found by scientists, dating back to the very beginning of the Universe after the Big Bang, which supposedly happened around 13.8 billion years ago.
The black hole, which is believed to be 900 million years old, has turned into a powerful galactic engine that has blasted two superhot jets of matter in both directions, one of which is directed at Earth. As crazy as it may sound, this happens quite often in the Universe, which made astronomers come up with a special name for such black holes – blazars. Otherwise, it’s nearly impossible to detect these ancient beasts!
When a supermassive black hole turns into an active galactic nucleus (AGN) it releases a colossal amount of matter and radiation that travel for billions of years nearly at the speed of light. The team led by Silvia Belladitta discovered this very type of AGN and named it PSO J0309+27. The light of its emissions has travelled to earth for 12 billion years! Such explosive light beams are incredibly powerful and can cut through galaxies, destroying everything in their path.
Observing this impressive AGN will give the scientists an idea about what the primordial Universe looked like. It is most probable that for each blazar (AGN visible from Earth) there are hundreds of equally strong AGNs that are pointed elsewhere, which means we simply can’t spot them (for now). Picking up the signals of PSO J0309+27 wasn’t an easy task as well – it was a joint effort of Pan-STARRS in Hawaii, NRAO’s VLA (Very Large Array) in New Mexico, and WISE that is located on the Earth’s orbit.
It took some further examination of the data from NASA’s Swift Telescope and Arizona’s Large Binocular Telescope to peg this AGN as the most ancient, distant, and powerful blazar ever spotted by astronomers. This discovery also sheds some light on the origin of numerous supermassive black holes that continue shaping our Universe today. Belladitta believes that with more sensitive telescopes like the Square Kilometre Array and the Vera Rubin Observatory we will be able to look deeper into the primordial Universe, understanding the processes that formed the cosmic surroundings we live in today.